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13 - Nostalgia and Mourning in Milton Hatoum’s Órfãos do Eldorado

Felipe Martínez-Pinzón
Affiliation:
Brown University, Rhode Island
Javier Uriarte
Affiliation:
Stony Brook University, State University of New York
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Summary

Beginning with its title, Milton Hatoum's Órfãos do Eldorado (2008) [Orphans of El Dorado] explicitly engages with the legend of Manoa, or El Dorado, the city of gold ostensibly located in the South American forest. The title does not reveal, however, the extent to which Hatoum merges the legend of El Dorado with the indigenous Amazonian concept of Encante, or the Enchanted City. Indeed, the novella is notable among literary works set in the South American forest for its fusion of European and indigenous elements in its form and content. Thematically, the work mingles the legends of El Dorado and Encante, as well as native and non-native visions of Amazonian women as seductive, enchanted beings. Stylistically, Órfãos do Eldorado mixes oral and written traditions, which represent indigenous and Brazilian modes of storytelling. Throughout the work, the name Eldorado, as it is written in Portuguese, signifies the violent history of Brazil's colonization and, paradoxically, a utopia. Encante similarly represents an idyllic realm of happiness inaccessible to actual residents of Amazonia. This essay shows how Hatoum's work exhibits a mournful nostalgia for illusions that have historically defined the region: a lost city of wealth, a South American paradise, and an inviolate natural world. Ultimately, the narrator of Órfãos reflects upon El Dorado as a myth imposed upon the region by outsiders, and yet remains wistful for it. The irony of this situation is the hallmark of Hatoum's fiction, and it stems from his use of mourning and nostalgia as critical literary tools.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, mourning and nostalgia have enjoyed a resurgence in critical attention from scholars analyzing the modern era. The neologism “nostalgia”, however, was invented in 1688 by Johannes Hofer in his doctoral thesis “Medical Dissertation on Nostalgia”. Hofer coined the term from the Greek nostos, meaning “return to the native land”, and algos, or “suffering”, and further defined it as “the sad mood originating from the desire for the return to one's native land … which admits no remedy other than a return to the homeland”. In the nineteenth century, many doctors classified nostalgia as a form of melancholy. Even today, the two words are related by the sufferer's dissatisfaction with the present due to the loss of a desired object, be that home, a loved one, or an earlier time.

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Intimate Frontiers
A Literary Geography of the Amazon
, pp. 248 - 266
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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