Hatoum, Milton 1952-

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HATOUM, Milton 1952-

PERSONAL: Born August 19, 1952, in Manaus, Brazil; son of Hassan Ibrahim and Naha Assi Hatoum. Education: State University of Sao Paulo/USP, diploma in urban architecture, 1977; University of Sorbonne, Paris, France, M.A., 1983.

ADDRESSES: Home—Rua Veiga Filho, 83/131, 01229-001, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil.

CAREER: Journalist and writer. University of Amazonas Manaus, Brazil, professor of French literature, 1983—; University of California—Berkeley, visiting professor of Latin-American literature.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jabuti Award, 1989, for Relato de um Certo Oriente, and 2000, for Dois Irmaos.


Um rio entre ruinas (poetry), Diadorim, 1978.

Relato de um Certo Oriente (novel), Companhia das Letras, 1989, translation published as The Tree of the Seventh Heaven, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.

Dois Irmaos (novel), Cotovia (Portugal), 2000, translation by John Gledson published as The Brothers, Farrar, Staus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor of short stories and articles to periodicals. Translator for Brazilian edition of Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Working on a third and fourth novel, the latter to be about an Amazonian myth.

SIDELIGHTS: Milton Hatoum's first novel, Relato de um Certo Oriente, which was translated as, The Tree of the Seventh Heaven, won Brazil's prestigious Jabuti Award. A critic from the journal La Croix commented that the author presents a sort of "Amazonian Arabian Nights" and "[gives] substance to the mixture of cultures."

His second novel, Dois Irmaos, which received more attention in the United States than his first, was published in Portugal in 2000. Two years later, it was translated into English under the title The Brothers. Richard Eder, writing for the New York Times, noticed the similarities in Hatoum's novel with that of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. "More than Cain and Abel," Eder wrote, "the enmity between Omar and Yaqub resembles the fratricidal cycle of the blue shark, whose progeny tear at each other while still unborn." It is a "harsh story," Eder concluded and the narration leaves many mysteries that can be unsettling to a reader. "It is a narrative without vertebrae," noted Eder, "oozing forward and back as a worm does, and not so much progressing as pulsing." However, it is in the pulsing, Eder stated, that the story holds it "allure and eventually its wisdom."

In the novel, Omar and Yaqub are identical twins, sons of Lebanese ex-patriots who live in Manaus on the Amazon River. The story revolves around the competition of the brothers for their mother's attention. Yaqub more easily fits the description of the good son, but Zana, the boys' mother, dotes on Omar, a capricious drunkard. The setting is the mid-1940s, a time when the city of Manaus was a bustling harbor. It was Hatoum's description of Manaus, his own place of birth, that Peter Whittakes, for New Internationalist, enjoyed the most about this book. The story itself was a bit "threadbare," Whittakes stated, but the part of the story that focused on the city was so rich, that "the port emerges as not only a character in its own right but by far the most important one."

Mystery abounds in this novel as it is told in flashback, and the narrator's identity is withheld until the end. It is "a mystery with multiple levels," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly; and A. S. Byatt for the Guardian found those mysteries riveting. Hatoum's novel "is gripping in both its particular twists and its tragic inevitability," Byatt wrote.

Milton Hatoum told CA: "I always wanted to be a writer because during my childhood in Manaus, children read more as there was no TV. I listened to the stories told by my grandfather, a Lebanese immigrant who used to tell tales that sounded like the Arabian Nights. So that when I left Manaus and the Amazon to live in the south of Brazil, the stories of the Orient told by my grandfather and those of the Amazon told by the Indian maids made my thoughts race. I was born and grew up caught between these two worlds: the Amazon and the Orient. Two worlds apart, but still having a common link: the oral tradition of the narrators, the storytellers."



Guardian (London, England), June 1, 2002, A. S. Byatt, "Down a River of Stories," review of The Brothers, p. 30.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of The Brothers, p. 702.

La Croix, May 6, 1993.

New Internationalist, June, 2002, Peter Whittakes, review of The Brothers, pp. 31-33.

New York Times, July 19, 2002, Richard Eder, "Cain and Abel Played Out in a Run-Down Amazon Port," p. B38.

Publishers Weekly, April 29, 2002, Volume 249, number 17, review of The Brothers, p. 40.

Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 2002, Johathan Keates, "A Story of Manaus," p. 21.