Feliz Ano Novo (book)
Region: South America
Subject: Explicit Sexuality
Artist: Rubem Fonseca
Confronting Bodies: The Brazilian military dictatorship
Dates of Action: 1976, 1989
Description of Artwork: Feliz Ano Novo (Happy New Year) is a collection of short stories by Ruben Fonseca, a very popular Brazilian author. Five of the fifteen short stories were prohibited. The story the censors found most offensive was the title story in which three criminals smoke marijuana, one of them masturbates, they steal a car, go to a party where they frighten an old woman to death, beat and rape another woman, tie up the other guests and rob them, shoot two men, defecate on a bed, and then wish each other happy new year and leave.
The Incident: The censoring of Feliz Ano Novo is unusual. Although the book was written during a time in which Brazil was under an oppressive military dictatorship the incident took place during a period of "opening" in which the government was loosening its controls on the media. The government also usually targeted leftists. Fonseca was not a leftist but an attorney who was a member of the board of directors of one of Brazil's largest utility companies. The book had already become a bestseller and was on its third printing. Only five of the fifteen stories in the book were banned. Although almost every kind of book was censored under Brazil's military dictatorship books that contained explicit sexuality were especially under attack. The military censors considered pornography a weapon the socialists used to decay the moral fibre of the country. The major objection of the judges with regards to Feliz Ano Novo is that, after the criminals in the story commit atrocities, they pay no price. The judges also felt the book might lead the average Brazilian astray. Numerous writers filed petitions against the censorship of the book and Fonseca hired a lawyer to fight the ban in court. He also solicited Brazilian Academy of Letters who appointed one of Brazil's most famous critics to give their opinion on the matter. The opinion highly favored the book over the censors, an opinion which the court, of course, ignored.
Results of Incident: In 1978 the Institutional Acts, military decrees which gave legitimacy to censorship, were revoked. This legalized all the publications which had been censored and brought an end to the raids on newspaper offices. However since Fonseca was fighting the censorship in court Feliz Ano Novo remained the only work still censored in Brazil until 1989.
Source: "Censorship: A World Encyclopedia"