True Life: I’m a Noveleira

Kim Asenbeck - Brazil

September 20, 2012

Voce ta virando noveleira, Kim!” (You’re becoming a noveleira, Kim!)

The first utterance of these words-said by my host father-was the result of my extreme and nearly obsessive dedication to Lado a Lado, Brazil’s newest novela.

Then, the words were uttered again. This time, our team leader, Sol, called a meeting which would start at the same time as Lado a Lado. “I have to run home, Sol! I’ve got a novela to catch.” Not surprisingly, I found little sympathy.  Lamentably, I missed Tuesday night’s episode.

“But wait!” you may be saying. “What is this novela you speak of?” Think along the lines of a soap opera, but with a mass national following. Novelas air nightly during prime time on Rede Globo, Brazil’s enormous media conglomerate-the fourth biggest in the world-which monopolizes the average Brazilian’s TV time*. Novelas run for about three months each, and as one storyilne concludes, a new novela begins in the same timeslot. They range in theme and topic, from historical depictions of colonial Salvador at the turn of the 20th century (This is the backdrop of my dear Lado a Lado.) to housekeepers-turned-superstars involved in a complicated love triangle. Each night, a new episode airs, and concludes with a cliffhanger. In tonight’s episode of Lado a Lado, the protagonist’s fiance was assaulted on the streets and thrown into jail on the day of their wedding, leaving his intended alone at the altar.

At the close of the episode, I sat speechless on the sofa. I imagined thousands of noveleiras like me in simultaneous disbelief across the country at large. Noveleiras schedule their entire days based on when their favorite novela airs. Folks go crazy about these programs for a stretch of three months, and then the novela disappears once it concludes. And then a new one airs. And folks go crazy again. The novela is a national pastime. It’s a national obsession. And, undeniably, it’s my newest obsession.

*During my first few days in Brazil, I wasn’t even sure that any other channels existed. Then, after an afternoon of channel surfing, I became aware of a wealth of channels, including one devoted solely to livestock auctioneering, several which air religious services 24/7, and futebol, futebolfutebol everywhere. And one evening, when the president was giving a speech, all there was was Dilma, on every single channel.

Kim Asenbeck