O visitante, 1955
O fiel e a pedra, 1961
Avalovara, 1973 (English translation, 1979)
A rainha dos cárceres da Grécia, 1976 (The Queen of the Prisons of Greece, 1995)
Os gestos, 1957
Nove, novena, 1966 (Nine, Novena, 1995)
Lisbela e o prisioneiro, pb. 1964
Santa, automóvel e soldado, pb. 1975
Guerra sem testemunhas, 1969
Osman Lins (leens) was born in the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil, a region whose cultural heritage is often elaborated in his fiction. Lins was the son of a tailor and was reared by his grandmother; he never knew his mother, and the author himself has speculated that his exploratory fiction may be psychologically linked to that loss. Lins went to high school in the state capital, Recife, where he also studied economics at the university. During this period he published his first stories. In addition, Lins studied dramaturgy at the university. He later wrote and published several plays, some of which were staged in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Lins moved to metropolitan São Paulo to work for the Banco do Brasil. After retiring from the banking profession and completing a doctoral degree, Lins taught literature at a private college. He soon resigned his position, both to dedicate himself to writing and in protest of the precarious conditions of higher education in Brazil, a topic he addresses in essays and fiction. When he died, Lins was in the process of finishing another novel.
Lins’s early work is largely introspective but also has some regionalist features. O visitante (the visitor) concerns moral questions and the relationship of personal awareness to behavioral codes. These preoccupations are also evident in the individual stories of Os gestos (gestures) and in O fiel e a pedra (the faithful and the stone), which is set in the author’s home state. This novel has an epic design (derived from Vergil’s Aeneid) and a clear moral intent. The hero, moved by passion and compassion, struggles to oppose injustice and to resist intimidation. In his mature works Lins reveals intense interest in the creative process, in authorial conscience, and in human consciousness. His later fiction is notably cerebral and revolves around structural experimentation. Lins avoids standard omniscient narrators and constructs intricate, at times hermetic, symbolic systems. Reflecting a complex vision of society, each of the nine “narratives” of Nine, Novena has a unique technique of narration or presentation, including use of graphic signs to identify narrators. The dense expression often embodies special codes or particular rhetorical constructions, as in “Retabulo de Santa Joana Carolina” (retable of St. Joan Caroline), which is based on the didactic model of medieval miracle plays. The complicated approaches of Nine, Novena and subsequent fiction are better grasped in the light of Lins’s speculative Guerra sem testemunhas (war without witnesses). This essay contains elements of memoir and fiction as well and is a key to understanding the evolution of Lins’s work.
The ambitious novel Avalovara is Lins’s major contribution. In characteristic fashion, the novel is an interwoven network of narrative lines. The work constitutes a synthesis of all the author’s fiction and an allegory of the art of the novel. Sexual relations and the instinct to reproduce are symbolic of writing as a necessary and natural regeneration of a moribund world. In the interplay of reality and fiction the main character’s love life is revealed to be a pretext to show the author’s translation of the outside world into words of fiction. Lins’s last novel, The Queen of the Prisons of Greece, challenges readers to unravel a system of representation. It takes the form of a diary analyzing an imaginary work of fiction about a problematic life in northeastern Brazil. The novel is a layered critique of the hopelessly inadequate Brazilian welfare system and of the academic profession, particularly the branch of literary studies. In this way Lins reveals his abiding concerns with concrete realities and their reflections in works of imagination.
Osman Lins was a leading exponent of a new fiction of vitalization that followed the mid-twentieth century advances of João Guimarães Rosa and Clarice Lispector. His fiction is important for its depth of introspection and for speculation about writing itself, and his writing reflects the efforts in Brazilian literature to integrate ethical and aesthetic perspectives.