Author Embla Rhodes discusses his work and his future plans.
LONDON BOOK FESTIVAL: Give us a brief synopsis of your book.
EMBLA RHODES: A Distinguished Hyperbourgeois is divided into two parts: the first, Blue Chips, with seventeen chapters, and the second, Bourgeois Scenes, with eighteen chapters. It is a novel in which the character Alexander Rezende is the protagonist; prostitution, petroleum and terrorism are the nuclei of an ambitious story. Although the main protagonist in that plot is the planetary bourgeoisie, and the main antagonist international terrorism with its ramifications in Brazil, the tritagonist is prostitution, setting the characters interacting with each other among the nuclei. Sometimes one or another nucleus assumes greater importance, depending on the event recounted in the story, the protagonist Alexander establishing a conductive thread in the novel. It is a novel also characterised by the representation of plots in which urban violence is another great protagonist, in which I, the author, explore an issue dealing with daily violence in Brazil - in the case of A Distinguished Hyperbourgeois, with foreign ramifications, through terrorism as a leitmotif to this flag of violence pervading the lives of Brazilians.
And what does hyperbourgeois mean? Hyperbourgeois does not mean simplistically the bourgeois who is very bourgeois. The hyperbourgeois is a member of a hyperclass, in which he gets an intellectual education in an academic institution of immense planetary reputation, receives high salaries, has the capacity to influence the life of populations, for better or for worse, through decisions taken through his tools of work, and moves in high culture. The hyperbourgeois emerges from globalisation through transnational companies that exist as a result of trade between nations. Typically, today he has a meeting in New York, tomorrow he has lunch in Acapulco, and the next day he goes shopping in Paris. The hyperbourgeois may not be born bourgeois; they are different from the latter since they have the characteristics already mentioned, whereas the bourgeois may not have the qualities that the hyperbourgeois has.
The hyperbourgeois adds to the actions and behaviours of the "national bourgeoisies" led by a hegemony in all branches of activities - economic, political, social, financial, and so on. In planetary terms, the greatest amount of the hyperbourgeoisie is concentrated in the United States, forming a hyperclass that flourishes all over the world, where the North Americans exert great power and influence. The main character has in-depth connections with the United States. Thus, this is how the protagonist Alexander Rezende is portrayed in A Distinguished Hyperbourgeois.
In the novel the great question "Am I the target of something?" is thrown out by Alexander, the president of the Brazilian branch of the petroleum multinational, Tex Oil, of North American origin, whose company owner Laczko, has been a great friend of Alexander’s since they studied Economy at Harvard University. The question comes up after Alexander receives a phone call from a woman, Camila Cavendish, warning him about the existence of three DVDs containing secret information on him and other subjects, of whose content the protagonist is ignorant, but she knows what it deals with, and she refuses to give the game away. The woman, though, had lost the DVDs, or had them stolen from her and she doesn't know how or by whom; because of this she informs the president of the other company, throwing him into tremendous personal, both professional and matrimonial conflicts. She puts him under psychological pressure, provoking his suspicion of terrorist attacks.
LBF: What motivated you to start writing?
ER: When I lived in France to do a PhD in political science, I read an article in Le Monde Diplomatique whose content caught my attention. Its title was: "Une Nouvelle Classe S'Empare des Leviers du Pouvoir Mondial - Naissance de l'hyperbourgeoisie" (August 1998, pp. 16-17; "A New Class Takes Control of the Levers of World Power - Birth of the Hyperbourgeoisie"). I cut out the article and saved it in order that it might guide me in the construction of a story in a future novel. Time passed, and my desire to develop a plot that had a political aspect, especially after the attack on the Twin Towers, only increased, this considering my intuition that Paris was going to be attacked after New York. Thus, in the plot
of A Distiguished Hyperbourgeois, it is the Gallic country that is on scene with its ramifications in Brazil through the Triple Frontier (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay) in South America, and not the United States, in the sense that Brazil and France are inserted in a terrorist radar, although in the build-up of a conflict it is oil that triggers the interests of the American eagle. Then, I, the author, moved by the question "Am I the target of something?", started to mentally hammer out the chosen ambitious story to be told in the novel. In this way, the characters that live in it began to take shape, I made use of the French article in Le Diplo and researched in books about politics subjects of interest for the construction of the story. I contemplated those referenced in social political and financial subjects, in accordance with learned concepts (capitalism, bourgeoisie, globalization, worldization, (neo)liberalism, war strategies, terrorist stratagems) from the head offices of thought of the Political and Economic Sciences, idealized by great thinkers and philosophers, such as Sun Tzu, Nicolau Maquiavel, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Claus Offe, Nicos Poulantzas, etc. In the novel, those philosophies are, of course, transformed into literary material to give subsidy to the warped plot, that revolves around that question: "Am I the target of something?". Associated to the subject of terrorism is the idea of war, petroleum and colonialism. Thus, based on the feeling that France was going to be attacked by terrorists, I can say that it was by the inspiration of my experience as a PhD student living in France where my motivations to write A Distinguished Hyperbourgeois began, after taming my demons.
LBF: How was the book received in your country?
ER: Actually, I finished writing A Distiguished Hyperburgeois in 2008. I kept the story tucked away in a drawer all those years. Overcoming the reticence that deprived me of showing the novel to the public, I decided to bring it to light because I wanted to enter it in the 2022 London Book Festival. Considering the time it has been at rest, shelved, the theme of the work is still very up-to-date and imperative. It is a novel written for the masses, however with a high degree of intellectual refinement. It is to please all classes and many tastes. It has universal and universalizing spirit. Because the reader, regardless of their country of origin,
I suppose, believes in this, when reading it they can identify with the characters: the history of each of them mirrors individual problems, at the same time common to all people. A Distinguished Hyperbourgeois then has not yet been presented to the Brazilian reading public, except to publishers; only recently both its original in Brazilian and its English version have been taken down from the shelf. I am anxious to know how it will be received by readers, including English-speaking ones, as well as those of other nationalities - should it be translated into their mother tongues. The English version already exists; this formidable task of translating the work into Brazilian was carried out by Anthony Lennard, a Brit living in Brazil, to whom I extend my most sincere thanks and profound gratitude.
LBF: Have you been able to leverage that momentum in your international endeavors?
ER: As the work is delivered to a literary agent - and concomitantly presented to Brazilian publishers - I believe it will find in its favour the capacity to be leveraged to the international sphere. After all, one of A Distinguished Hyperbourgeois' sub-themes is of broad global interest, for it subtly and surreptitiously deals with petroleum and terrorism. It is considered that male prostitution also takes place in every corner of the planet. With these kinds of combined themes, the literary agent intends to present A Distinguished Hyperbougeois to English-speaking publishers. The work has the thematic scope to stir the curiosity of a wide spectrum of readers. Within its plot, among other issues, one learns about the oil exploration on the Brazilian Atlantic coast, headed by Petrobras, one of the biggest companies in the world, making certain nations’ mouths water in their desire to take over this Sacred Chalice from Brazil. A Distinguished Hyperbourgeois is a novel perfectly suited to a Hollywood cinematic transcodification. This work is charged with language full of imagery, with psychologically well-constructed characters, in their actions and their behaviour, suitable for readers of novels as well as consumers of audio-visual works. It has a direct, objective style, but with an emphasis on detail in the descriptions. Sometimes colloquial language is used, mixed with intellectual refinement of thought, with plots centred on urban violence. The dialogues between characters are a delight and are a constituent part of the formation of the main themes,
summarized in that question that drives the story: "Am I the target of something?". There is a mixture of true information with fictional elements, and it is necessary to open the story of the novel with the caveat: This is a fictional story. Any similarity with names, facts or people is mere coincidence. There are characters who are social climbers and social outcasts, like prostitutes, and people liked with crime, like murderers and criminals. There are explanations for the flaws and contradictions of the characters, with their lustful behaviour.
LBF: What are you working on now?
ER: I am working on an adventure novella: The Angel of the East Gate. In it, two protagonists go down into a cavern in order to explore its mysteries... and so on.