Guimarães Rosa – Grande Sertão: Veredas

Guimarães Rosa (27th June 1908 – 19th November 1967) is regarded as one of the greatest Brazilian writers. The eldest of six children, he was born in the small, remote town of Cordisburgo in Minas Gerais, but later moved to Belo Horizonte, the state capital, where he studied medicine at university and then worked as a doctor before changing careers to become a diplomat.


He had demonstrated a precocious talent for foreign languages by teaching himself French at the age of seven using only a grammar book and a dictionary. He later learned to speak German, English, Spanish, Italian, Esperanto and a little Russian, and became a proficient reader in many other languages. His keen interest in the structure of language (particularly the Brazilian indigenous language Tupi), combined with his sharp observations of local linguistic variations, enabled him to experiment with Portuguese in a unique way. His novel Grande Sertão: Veredas and his many short stories are imbued with the voices and colours of the semi-arid scrubland and wilderness of inland Brazil, with its cattle-raising communities and multitude of local characters. Guimarães Rosa was unanimously elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1963.

In English, Grande Sertão was translated as The Devil To Pay in the Backlands (the translation will cost you around $100, as its only available in hardcover). Click on the image to enlarge it.


Luis Fernando Verissimo

Luís Fernando Veríssimo (born September 26, 1936 in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) is a Brazilian writer.

Verissimo is the son of Brazilian writer Erico Verissimo and lived with his father in the United States during his childhood.

Verissimo states that he had tried many things before writing. In a lecture for the students of journalism atUnisinos, Verissimo said that “at the age of 31 and realizing that I hadn’t worked out on anything, I decide to try it on as a writer, after an invitation of Jornal Zero Hora (of Porto Alegre)”.

Most of his works have a humorous tone. Among his short stories, those featuring the Analista de Bagé (The Psychoanalist from Bagé a hilarious mix of the refinement of psychoanalysis and hillybilly backwardness), Ed Mort (a dirt-poor private detective, whose stories are told in a parodical style), and A Velhinha de Taubaté (The Old Lady from Taubaté, the last person to still believe what politicians say) are some of the most successful ones. Verissimo also writes for television comedy shows.

Clarice Lispector – Near to the Wild Heart

Clarice Lispector (December 10, 1920 – December 9, 1977) was a Brazilian writer. Acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories, she was also a journalist and a translator. A legendary figure in Brazil, renowned for her mystical writings, her great personal beauty–the American translator Gregory Rabassare called being “flabbergasted to meet that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf,”–and her eccentric personality, she is now considered (with João Guimarães Rosa) one of the two most outstanding Brazilian prose writers of the twentieth century.

Born to a Jewish family in Podolia in what is today Ukraine, Clarice Lispector emigrated as an infant, amidst the disasters engulfing her native land following the First World War. She grew up in northeastern Brazil, where her mother died when she was nine. The family moved to Rio de Janeiro when she was in her teens. While in law school in Rio she began publishing her first journalistic work and short stories, catapulting to fame at age 23 with the publication of her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, written as an interior monologue in a style and language that was considered revolutionary in Brazil.

She left Brazil in 1944, following her marriage to a Brazilian diplomat, and spent the next decade and a half in Europe and the United States. Upon return to Rio de Janeiro in 1959, she began producing her most famous works, including the stories of Family Ties and the great mystic novel The Passion According to G.H.. Wounded in an accident in 1966, she spent the last decade of her life in frequent pain, steadily writing and publishing novels and stories until her premature death in 1977.

Though her books were often reputed to be difficult or hermetic during her lifetime, her fame and reputation have not ceased to increase since her death. She is the subject of innumerable books, and references to her and her work are common in Brazilian literature and music. Several of her works have been turned into films. One group of her fans, on the Brazilian social-networking site Orkut, has 174,386 members.

Mario Quintana – A Life in Poems

Mario de Miranda Quintana (July 30, 1906—May 5, 1994), was a Brazilian writer, poet and translator. Born in Alegrete, state of Rio Grande do Sul. 

He was considered a poet of simple things, with a style marked by irony, profundity and technical perfection. He worked as a journalist almost all his life and translated more than one-hundred and thirty works. These literary works include In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and Words and Blood by Giovanni Papini.


I was born in Alegrete, on the 30th of July of 1906. I believe that was the first thing that happened to me. And now they have asked me to speak of myself. Well! I always thought that every confession that wasn’t altered by art is indecent. My life is in my poems, my poems are myself, never have I written a comma that wasn’t a confession. Ah! but what they want are details, rawness, gossip…Here we go! I am 78 years old, but without age. Of ages, there are only two: either you are alive or dead. In the latter case, it is too old, because what was promised to us was Eternity.

I was born in the rigor of the Winter, temperature: 1 degree; and still I was premature, which would leave me kind of complex because I used to think I wasn’t ready. One day I discovered that someone as complete as Winston Churchill was born premature – the same thing happened to Sir Issac Newton! Excusez du peu…(To name a few…)

I prefer to cite the opinion of others about me. They say I am modest. On the contrary, I am so proud that I think I never reached the height of my writing. Because poetry is insatisfaction, an affliction of self-elevation. A satisfied poet doesn’t satisfy. They say I am timid. Nothing of the sort! I am very quiet, introspective. I don’t know why they subject the introverts to treatment. Only for not being as annoying at the rest? It’s exactly for detesting annoyingness, the lengthiness, that I love synthesis. Another element of poetry is the search for the form (not of the form), the dosage of words. Perhaps what contributes to my safety is the fact that I have been a practitioner of pharmacy for five years. Note that the same happened with Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Alberto de Oliveira, Erico Verissimo – they well know (or knew) what a loving fight with words means.

O Que Eu Não Quero (What I Don’t Want)

(an excerpt of a piece he wrote, which I translated)

“I don’t want someone that dies of love for me…I only need someone that lives for me, that wants to be together with me, hugging me. I don’t demand that this someone loves me like I love them, I just want that they love me, it doesn’t matter with what intensity. I don’t have the intention that all the people I like, like me…It’s not even about if they miss me as much as I miss them, what is important for me is to know that I, in some moment, was irreplacable…and that that moment is unforgetable…I only want my feeling to be worth something.”

In the Praça da Alfândega in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul, one can find a sculpture with Carlos Drummond de Andrade (standing) and Mario Quintana. There is something similar of Andrade alone in Ipanema.

Gilberto Freyre – The Masters & The Slaves

Gilberto Freyre (March 15, 1900 – July 18, 1987) was a Brazilian sociologist, cultural anthropologist, historian, journalist and congressman. His best-known work is a sociological treatise named Casa-Grande & Senzala (variously translated, but roughly The Masters and the Slaves, as on a traditional plantation).

He was born in Recife, Pernambuco state, from a distinguished Pernambucan plantation’s owner family. He attended a Baptist school, then he moved to Texas in the United States, where he received a B.A. from Baylor University in 1920. Later he went to Columbia University, where studying under Franz Boas he earned his Master’s degree in Political and Social Sciences with the dissertation “Social Life in Brazil in the Middle of the 19th Century”. He returned to Brazil in 1922 and began working in the Diário de Pernambuco. In 1927 he was named Cabinet Officer of the Governor Estácio de Albuquerque. But his political involvement led to his leaving the country for Portugal first, and then to United States in 1930. In Portugal he worked as translator and conceived the book that would became Casa-Grande & Senzala. In the same year he was invited to teach as Visiting Professor at Stanford University.

Returning to Brazil, he wrote and published Casa-Grande & Senzala, which shows the development of Brazilian society from the influences of the Portuguese, Indians, and African slaves. The work is credited with exposing the Brazilian cultural heritage and providing a source of national pride.

In the 1930’s, Freyre introduced the controversial idea of a “Brazilian racial democracy”, in which he argued that the racial mixing that was looked down upon in Brazil was enriching the culture. In particular, he believed that the Iberian-Catholic tradition would play a prominent role within the hybrid culture, but the miscegenation among all the races would produce a unified and robust race and enable everyone to attain opportunities within the society. Within this paradigm, he coined the term Lusotropicalism that refers to the proclivity of Portugal to have been able to adapt and live in an environment that is able to harmoniously mix the various cultures and races in Brazil.

Heavily influenced by the teachings of Franz Boas, Freyre was compelled to document the achievements of the African. Through the lens of Brazilian history, he traced back the lack of white women to the need of colonizers to fraternize with the natives and later the African slaves. In this view, this original act was in itself civic devotion. He argued that it was not race that was creating social inequality, but that it was poverty that was degenerating men. He believed that the social classes in Brazil were based on economic disparities, and not racial differences.

I’ve been wanting to read Casa Grande e Senzala for a long time now but my current reading list doesn’t allow for it. Last time I saw it, it was in a Brazilian bookstore and it was quite expensive.