Leading Brazilian Communist José Carlos Ruy has died
José Carlos Ruy | via Vermelho

Editor’s note from Eric A. Gordon: José Carlos Ruy entered my life very recently, but very forcefully. The repercussions of our online meeting are destined to cast a long shadow. Out of the blue (or “over the transom” as they say in the publishing world) People’s World received an article by him—in English—celebrating the life of Brazilian left-wing poet and diplomat Vinícius de Moraes. It arrived in early December 2020 and, with my long academic experience in Braziliana, I was curious to take a look at it. First of all, I was struck by how good the author’s English was—it would require scant editorial intervention. Second, it came from the editor of Vermelho, the counterpart of People’s World in Brazil with a close association to the Partido Comunista do Brasil (PCdoB). Third, it explored succinctly the career of one of Brazil’s leading writers and cultural figures, a poet whose work actually is known to millions of North Americans, indeed, music lovers throughout the world, for his original Portuguese lyrics to the song “The Girl from Ipanema,” arguably the most famous song of the bossa nova movement. And fourth, it mentioned one of my favorite poems by Vinícius, “O Operário em Construção.”

People’s World collaborator Peter Lownds, who has been translating articles about Brazil for the paper, especially about the multiple crises in the Amazon, immediately came to mind, and I invited him to prepare a translation of this poem, as “The Worker in Construction,” to accompany José Carlos’ brief appreciation of the author. Having this poem in front of them, readers could see for themselves why Vinícius merits our attention. The article, including the poem, is here.

That is not the end of the story, however. José Carlos was thrilled that People’s World used his article, and so began what we imagined would be a long, comradely intercontinental partnership and correspondence. Peter, who essentially “met” José Carlos at the same time I did, sent me a poem he had written in Portuguese (far more than myself, Peter is truly a fluent speaker, reader, and writer) relating his first exposure to Brazil, and his political awakening in the aftermath of his Peace Corps assignment to the city of Recife in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, using a lot of local vernacular words that captured the spirit of the time (mid-1960s) and place. I forwarded it on to José Carlos, who went gaga over this surprise submission, published it, and received much favorable comment.

Given the locale of the poem, José Carlos made sure that one of his collaborators saw it, the Recife Communist writer Urariano Mota, who in short order sent Peter and me a copy of his novel set in the late 1960s in Recife among the community of young Communist activists (and don’t forget, that was during the time of the military dictatorship). Peter, as might be predicted, was bowled over by this book, which referenced places and people he had known himself, and immediately started translating it. He has submitted a sample to the author, who is over the moon about how faithfully Peter has rendered the world Urariano tried to summon up. We now have feelers out for a publisher for this important work of Brazilian political fiction.

All this took place over a short two months. Expectations were not just high, but astronomical for a beautiful, fruitful friendship. And then, alas, the word came of José Carlos’ death on Feb. 2. Here is Urariano’s reminiscence of a comrade the world will not forget soon. José Carlos Ruy, presente!

Please understand, I have no title for this text. I’ll let André Cintra, the competent cultural editor of Vermelho, choose one. I am writing it with a sense of urgency. Less than two hours ago, André called me with the sad and terrible news that José Carlos Ruy had died. His daughter, Carolina, discovered his body. When I heard the news, all I could do was swear, using words from the gutter which might as well have been sweet, polite little words because they didn’t appease the amount of anger I felt, face to face with the fact that Ruy died today [Feb. 2].

I know very well that other comrades, long-time friends of José Carlos Ruy in São Paulo, know things about him that I don’t. The only thing I can do is speak about the Ruy I knew, the person to whom I owe so much.

The first thing I remember is how great our get-togethers were! The one I remember best was when Ruy, Marco Albertim and I met in Olinda. We went to a restaurant in the plaza of the Holy See in Olinda’s colonial city and, from that lofty vantage point, enjoyed the vista of the Port of Recife. We regaled each other with stories while enjoying food, beer, and cachaça. What fun we had! Many people will not believe this is possible. How can people treat each other like brothers and enjoy themselves like old friends the first time they meet? All I can say is that the Communists I know have this knack and, if you aren’t one of us, you don’t know what you’re missing.

The fact is that we met there like old comrades, even though at the time I hadn’t joined the party as he and Marco had. We drank and talked about everyone we knew and all the things that were possible. As evening turned to night, I saw that Ruy could speak about literature, about Vermelho, about culture, about the history of communism with propriety and erudition but without any professorial airs. He spoke like one of us, like a friend. The truth of his words was like a Socratic dialogue in which we all had a share.

Sometime later, Ruy called me from São Paulo asking me to send him the text of the novel Marco Albertim serialized in VermelhoConspiração no Guadalupe. He was also the key person in getting LiterRua to publish A Mais Longa Duração da Juventude. He made the contacts, smoothed out rough edges, and laid a carpet for the book’s publication. He also wrote a brilliant foreword entitled, “A dream repression does not destroy.”

Next, I’ll reveal something new. José Carlos Ruy found someone who will translate this book into English, writer and poet Peter Lownds. I can hear readers wondering why I write and speak about so much about myself. Because José Carlos Ruy was the one who made it all happen, who opened doors for me so the books I write will be read! And I’m not the only one. He did the same for Marco Albertim and Christiane Brito and, no doubt, for lots of others of whom we are, as yet, unaware.

I owe this wonderful man, who left us with no warning or complaint, an unpayable debt. He never complained about losing his sight or about the things we all suffer: loneliness, illness, anguish, rage, and despair. Never a word. Everything he offered came with a brotherly smile. He welcomed and encouraged lots of people, launched many cultural and literary voyages.

This week, I confessed to a childhood friend that I was very worried about the health of my friends. This is fellowship and egotism at once. From a higher point of view, I worry because when a friend dies, so does part of us. We are always diminished because it tears away a part of our being. And from a less exalted, more threatening point of view, the voice of a cruel and inescapable angel whispers, “You will be next.”

From a grandiose point of view, brother Ruy, who departed today without a word, was a classic! A man who wrote about philosophy, literature, history, and politics fearlessly, despite the dimension of the creators, intellectuals, and themes that he broached. He wrote about Machado de Assis and about Engels, about Marx and about Shakespeare, with the greatest discernment and poise. I repeat, José Carlos Ruy was a classic! He was also a classic when it came to friendship, the one we looked to when we felt despair was near.

We are strongly shaken but, in honor of his memory, we cannot let discouragement and despondency invade us, even at this painful hour of his departure. José Carlos Ruy was a warrior. His life was devoted to frank, open, humanistic combat. The feeling that we, who have so little, are left even poorer is undeniable. This is a paradox that José Carlos might accept as an increase in the value of friendship.

In sum, I can only say that I knew a living Brazilian classic and admired how he lived. As a friend and a comrade, he was always present. What reciprocity! For you were always a present for us.

Translated for People’s World by Peter Lownds. The original version in Vermelho appeared on Feb. 2, 2021.


Urariano Mota
Urariano Mota

Journalist Urariano Mota is the author of the novels Soledad no Recife, O Filho Renegado de Deus, and A Mais Longa Duração da Juventude. He writes a column for the Communist Party of Brazil website Vermelho and is a collaborator of Prosa, Poesia, e Arte.