I finished Patrícia Galvão’s (known as “Pagu”) 1933 novel Industrial Park the other night. I picked the novel because it has been sitting on my shelf for a number of years and I never got around to reading it until my Around the World reading project prompted me to.
The novel is set in Sao Paulo in the early 1930s and tells of the lives of mostly factory workers struggling make a living in a world in which people are expendable cogs in the machine of greed and profitability.
The story has an agenda. It’s a call to arms to people to join the communist movement and rise against the bourgeoisie. As such, there is a repeated message of “all private industry is bad” and that “only communism can make things better for the workers”.
Whatever one makes of the message, I found the book fascinating.
There are several really interesting aspects about the novel that I had not expected but that made me read the book in only two sittings:
Of course, I had to read the novel in the English translation, but if the translation was close to the original, then this was a great example of the literary version brutalist art. I really found the writing style fascinating because even though sentences are ended abruptly, characters exist mainly through short descriptions of actions and thoughts, and every thing – descriptions and words – are kept to a minimum, Pagu still managed to create vignettes of life full of strive, compassion, hurt, humour, destitution, and hope.
It’s difficult to describe what I am talking about so here is an example:
Pagu’s main theme of the book is the exploitation of people – mostly women in this book – by capitalism. Whether this is in the form of the factory worker who exists as a wage slave that can be summarily dismissed or whether it is in the form of prostitution where instead of scraping from paycheck to paycheck the women look for and assess man after man as “meal tickets”.
THE STATISTICS AND THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN STRATUM THAT SUSTAINS THE INDUSTRIAL PARK OF SAO PAULO & SPEAKS THE LANGUAGE OF THIS BOOK, CAN BE FOUND, UNDER THE CAPITALIST REGIME, IN THE JAILS AND IN THE SLUM HOUSES, IN THE HOSPITALS & IN THE MORGUES.(from the author’s Preface to the book)
While books that drive any particular agenda are not something I usually enjoy, the style in this one kept me interested until the end. The lack of description and lack of explanatory wording made reading the book into something like a quest to find what potential meanings Pagu contracted into her short paragraphs.
I also thoroughly recommend the books afterword which explores Pagu’s life and work in a little more detail. I was not surprised to learn that she wrote this book before she had the opportunity to travel to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. I was even less surprised that upon returning from various travels, Page felt disillusionment with the communist cause she so passionately argued for previously. Despite this, she still maintained her enthusiasm for the socialist cause and reflected this in her journalism.
On personal level, I also enjoyed the Sao Paulo setting. Between 1895 and the late 1920s, my family was based in Sao Paulo, and reading about the city – even in the tinted light of Pagu’s writing – was just as interesting as reading up on the civil unrest in Sao Paulo (and the wider Brazilian) society at the time, which I had so far only heard about in stories handed down to me through various generations.