Brazilian literature

Every year at around this time, after returning from our annual escape-the-English-winter holiday, I focus on the literature of just one country. This year the country is Brazil.

Brazil has a long literary history. In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral made the first European exploration of what is now Brazil. With him was his scribe Pêro Vaz de Caminha, who sent a letter to King Manuel of Portugal, describing the newly discovered land. This is generally agreed to be the first Brazilian literary work.

Much early Brazilian literature consisted of ufanismo, i.e. glorification of the land, as well as works by Jesuits. Bento Teixeira is said to be the first Brazilian poet, though this is not universally agreed. His Prosopopéa is alleged to to be the first Brazilian poem.

The seventeenth century produced two great Brazilian writers. The first was Gregorio de Matos e Guerra. He wrote satirical poetry but also religious and love poetry, many, not surprisingly, influenced by Portuguese poetry. Many were not published till after his death, though circulated widely in manuscript during his life. If you read Portuguese, you can read some of his poems here.

Father Antonio Vieira was born in Lisbon but went to Brazil as a child. He is remembered for his sermons, whose key theme was why had God deserted the Portuguese. He concluded God had deserted the Portuguese because of their many sins of sins of racial prejudice and exploitation, including, in particular, slavery.

This was soon to change as the country was opened up and this change can be seen in the work of Manuel Botelho de Oliveira (link in Portuguese) and, in particular in his Música do Parnaso, the first book of poetry published by a native-born Brazilian.

José Basilio da Gama, a Jesuit when Jesuits were being expelled from Portugal, wrote a famous epic poem, O Uraguai [The Uruguay]. José de Santa Rita Durão was another Jesuit expelled from Portugal and he, too, wrote an epic poem, Caramuru.

At this time, Minas Gerais, despite its reputation for drinking and whoring, produced a series of quality poets: Tomás António Gonzaga, Cláudio Manuel da Costa and Inácio José de Alvarenga Peixoto. Gonzaga and Alvarenga Peixoto would later be exiled to Africa, allegedly for conspiring to bring about Brazilian Independence.

In the nineteenth century, poetry continued to flourish, particularly with Gonçalves de Magalhães, Viscount of Araguaia. Drama was also to the fore but it is prose fiction that is the interest of this site.

Prose fiction was slow to get going and was definitely behind poetry, drama and non-fiction. Translations from the French and English seemed to meet Brazil’s fiction needs. Chateaubriand was an early favourite, and Walter Scott and Fenimore Cooper were also soon much read.

There seems to be much dispute as to what is the first Brazilian work of prose fiction, partially depending on what you call prose fiction, though Lucas José de Alvarenga’s Statira e Zoroastes (link in Portuguese) is generally agreed to be the first work of prose fiction published in Brazil. (You can still obtain it (in Portuguese) from the usual on-line booksellers).

Going back, Nuno Marques Pereira‘s book (link in Portuguese), with a very long title, generally shortened to O livro do peregrino da América [The Book of the American Pilgrim] was first published in 1728. It was about a pilgrim possibly fictitious but possibly the author (who was a priest) and a (possibly imaginary) journey he makes, and the various people he talks to. It is probably not a novel as we understand it.

Teresa Margarida da Silva e Orta published, in 1752, her Aventuras de Diofanes ou Máximas da virtude, e formosura com que Diofanes, Clyminea, e Hemirena Principes de Thebas venceraõ os mais apertados lances da desgraça [Adventures of Diophanes or Maxims of Virtue and Beauty with which Diophanes, Clyminea and Hemirena, Prices of Thebes, Will Conquer the Hardest Incidents of Misfortune]. You can read the Portuguese text here.

Short stories became the favoured genre, often written by journalists, published in newspapers and with a historical theme. Only in the middle of the century did longer works start to appear, either with historical themes or those on Brazilian customs. Luis da Silva Alves de Azambuja Susano (link in Portuguese) published Um roubo na Pavuna [A Robbery in Pavuna] in 1843 and this had a certain amount of success.

Antonio Goncalves Teixeira e Sousa‘s O filho do pescador [The Son of the Fisherman], was the first Brazilian first full-length sentimental novel of customs, involving a shipwreck, a kidnapping and, of course, a love affair, between Laura and the eponymous fisherman’s son. Other novelists followed, particularly Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, best-known for his A Moreninha [The Brunette], the first urban novel in Brazil.

Women were also writing novels, particularly Nísia Floresta, known as Brazil’s first feminist, who mainly wrote non-fiction but did write two didactic novels.

There were now many novels being written. Of interest to us is Manuel Antônio de Almeida, whose Memorias de um sargento de milicias. may well be the first Brazilian novel to be published in English, under the title Memoirs of a Police Sergeant. It was republished by the Oxford University Press in 1999 and is readily available.

Though Brazil looked to European models, things were different in Brazil. Firstly, most women in Brazil were illiterate, so most readers and most writers were men. Secondly, the idea of romantic love, common in European fiction, was less so in Brazil as the great majority of marriages in the upper class, i.e. those that might read books, were arranged. Thirdly, Brazil was a very hierarchical society and success depended greatly on your extended family relations. The concepts found in European fiction, of intelligence, education, goodness and so on were irrelevant in Brazil.

Three Brazilian novelists stand out in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first is José de Alencar. Alencar was known for his Indianist novels, i.e. those where the native population appear. He is best-known for Iracema, translated into English by Lady Isabel Burton, wife of the explorer Richard Burton. His Senhora was published by the University of Texas Press in 2010 in English.

Aluísio Azevedo is the founder of naturalism in the Brazilian novel. O Mulato (translated into English as The Mulatto and published in English in 1996 by the University of Texas Press) is the first Brazilian naturalist novel. His O cortiço was translated as A Brazilian Tenement in 1928 and as The Slum by Oxford University Press in 2000.

By far the best-known nineteenth century Brazilian novelist is Machado de Assis. Indeed, many critics consider him the best Brazilian novelist of all time. His early, romantic novels had very limited success but once he started writing more realistic novels, he had considerable success. Many of his works are readily available in English.

The first major Brazilian novel of the twentieth century was not really a novel but is considered as such and is the first book in this reading marathon. Euclides da Cunha is best-known for this book – Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands; later: Backlands: The Canudos Campaign) about the War of Canudos.

The second 1902 novel I shall be reading is from José Pereira da Graça Aranha. His best-known novel Canaã (Canaan), like Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands), enjoyed considerable success in early twentieth century Brazil. It involved immigrants to Brazil.

José Bento Renato Monteiro Lobato is best-known for his children’s books but he also wrote novels and short stories for adults on rural themes. Very little is available in English through he wrote a book called How Henry Ford is Regarded in Brazil, though it is long since out of print.

Lima Barreto is available in English or, at least his best-known book Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (The Patriot; later: The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma) is. It is about an ultra-nationalist. An earlier English translation entitled it The Patriot.

Modernism arrived in Brazil in the 1920s. Mário de Andrade is best-known for his novel Macunaíma, which I shall be reviewing. It is about a hero without a character who is a shapeshifter. As well as Macunaíma, several other of his works are available in English, including non-fiction works.

Oswald de Andrade is no relation to Mário. Two of his books have been translated and I shall be reviewing one of them – Serafim Ponte Grande (Seraphim Grosse Pointe). Oswald de Andrade is well-known both for his novels and also for his Anthropophagic Manifesto, a modernist manifesto and one that says Brazilian literature should cannibalise from European literatures. It is known for its famous line (written in English): Tupi or not Tupi: that is the question. (The tupi are an indigenous Brazilian people).

António de Alcântara Machado is the third important Brazilian modernist but, apart from one children’s story, published in Japan and therefore difficult to obtain, he is not available in English.

José Américo de Almeida’s Trash – first published in 1928 but only available in English in 1978

Writing at the same period, José Américo de Almeida published A bagaceira (Trash), already reviewed on my site, a regional novel.

Rachel de Queiroz has had two novels published in English: The Three Marias and Dora, Doralina, though she is also known for her novel O Quinze, about the 1915 drought, but not available in English.

Graciliano Ramos also wrote about the sufferings of the regions. Two of his novels are already on my site: São Bernardo (São Bernardo) and Vidas sêcas (Barren Lives) and a third, Angustia (Anguish) is available in English.

José Lins do Rego is best known for his semi-autobiographical sugarcane cycle, a series of five sequential novels published over a period of five years, following four generations of a sugarcane family. The first in the series, Menino de Engenho has been translated as Plantation Boy, while another of his novels, Pureza, has also been translated into English under the same title.

Jorge Amado may be one of the best-known Brazilian novelists. Fifteen of his novels are reviewed on my site, thanks to the long since defunct Avon Bard series. Amado was a colourful writer from Bahia, about which he wrote.

Caminhos cruzados (Crossroads) . These and other novels of his have been translated into English. He also translated many works from English into Portuguese.

Fernando Sabino is not so well-known outside Brazil. However, he was very prolific and his novel O encontro marcado was published in English as A Time to Meet.

Cornélio Penna (link in Portuguese), sometimes spelt Pena, is even less well-known but his novel Fronteira has been translated as . I have a copy but will not reading it this time around. His novel Cronica. A menina morta has not been translated into English (though it has been translated into French) and has been called the best Brazilian novel about slavery.

Lúcio Cardoso is somewhat better known for his novel Crônica da casa assassinada (Chronicle of the Murdered House), which was published by Open Letter in English in 2016. It has been called Faulknerian.

João Guimarães Rosa is best known for his Grande sertão: veredas (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands), already on my site, which can lay claim to being the Great Brazilian Novel. Its reputation has been helped by the film version of it by the great Brazilian director Glauber Rocha.

Darcy Ribeiro was an anthropologist and stood (unsuccessfully) for both governor and vice-president. He wrote two novels, one of which, Maira, appeared in English under the same title.

One Brazilian woman writer well worth reading is Lygia Fagundes Telles, best known for her As meninas, translated into English as The Girl in the Photograph, which I shall be reviewing. Her novel Ciranda de pedra has been translated as The Marble Dance and a collection of her stories Seminário dos ratos has been translated as Tigrela.

Two of Osman Lins‘ novels, including the best known Avalovara, an experimental novel, and a collection of his stories, have been translated into English.

Adonias Filho is another writer, whom I should be reviewing this time around but who did not quite make the cut. He is best known for his Memórias de Lázaro, translated as Memories of Lazarus. His O Homem de branco about Henry Dunant was translated as The Man in White.

There are already five books by Clarice Lispector under review on my website and, while I will not be reading any this time, I shall doubtless read more later. She has had something of a renaissance in English recently (though not without controversy) and is certainly essential reading for those interested in Brazilian literature.

Rubem Fonseca is apparently a friend of Thomas Pynchon and, like Pynchon, keeps a low profile. His writings are full of sex and violence and generally set in urban areas. He is best known in English for his A Grande Arte , translated as High Art and Bufo & Spallanzani, same title in English.

I have two of Autran Dourado‘s novels on my site and two others have been translated into English.

The Latin American Boom did reach Brazil but did not have the impact it had in the Spanish-speaking part of Latin America, nor did it produce a great writer.

Ariano Suassuna is an example of this. He was primarily known as a playwright but wrote two novels, neither of which have been translated into English. A Pedra do Reino, of which I have a copy in Portuguese, certainly uses magic realism.

Hilda Hilst was influenced by Joyce and Beckett, wrote poems and plays as well as novels and built a house on the site of her childhood home. Her writings dealt with issues such as feminism, homosexuality, obscenity and pornography. Her best known work translated into English was A obscena senhora D (The Obscene Madame D).

Heloneida Studart wrote her first story when she was nine, was a journalist by the age of sixteen, was elected six times as a state deputy, was imprisoned for her political activities, had six children and co-founded the Centre for Brazilian Women/ She still found time to write though none of her books has been translated into English.

Roberto Drummond was a journalist and very interested in sports. He is best known for his novel Hilda Furacão (Hilda Hurricane), translated into English. However, I would be curious to read his novel O dia em que Ernest Hemingway morreu crucificado, which has not been translated. It means The Day Ernest Hemingway Died Crucified.

Raduan Nassar may be best known in Brazil for the fact that, in 1984, he was tired of writing and retired. He is known in English for his Um copo de cólera (A Cup of Rage).

Ignacio de Loyola Brandão is best known for his dystopian science fiction novel Zero, set in the fictitious country of America Latindia. Several of his other works have been translated into English, one of which I shall be reading.

Three of João Ubaldo Ribeiro‘s novels have been translated into English, including Sargento Getúlio (Sergeant Getúlio), which I have reviewed.. He had considerable critical success in Brazil.

Silviano Santiago spent much time in France and has translated several French works into Portuguese. His novel Stella Manhattan was translated into English with the same title, though he is also known for his novel Em liberdade, which has not been translated into English.

Ivan Angelo is known as a journalist and short story writer as well as a novelist. His best-known novel is A Festa, translated as The Celebration.

Moacyr Scliar‘s writing deals, to a great extent, with the issue of being a Jew in Brazil. Professionally he was involved in public health. However he wrote over a hundred books, twelve of which have been translated into English, including in particular O Centauro no Jardim translated as The Centaur in the Garden.

Nélida Piñon was a journalist. Her first name was an anagram of Daniel. She wrote novels, stories, essays, children’s books and her memoirs. Three of her novels have been translated into English, in particular A república dos sonhos (The Republic of Dreams).

Lya Luft is a novelist but also a prolific translator from English and German into Portuguese. She grew up in Santa Cruz do Sul, where there were a large number of German immigrants and spoke both German and Portuguese as a child. Three of her novels have been translated into English, including Perdas & ganhos, translated as Losses and Gains.

Sérgio Sant’Anna is an important writer but, though he has been translated into French, German, Italian and Spanish, he has not been translated into English. His best known novel As Confissões de Ralfo [The Confessions of Ralfo], an imaginary and improbable autobiography of a writer has not been translated into any language.

The modern period has produced many excellent Brazilian novels, though not all of them have made it into English. Here are a few that have.

Chico Buarque is already on my site. He is best-known as a musician, playing music which, like his writing, often has a political message. However, he has written several novels, five of which are available in English.

Conceicao Evaristo‘s Poncia Vicencio is by an Afro-Brazilian author and was very well received both in Brazil and the English-speaking world and is the story of a young Afro-Brazilian woman

João Gilberto Noll is known more as a short story writer but has written several novels, three of which have appeared in English, one of which I shall be reviewing.

Two of Márcio Souza‘s novels are already on my site but several of his other works are available in English. As well as writing novels, he has written about the Amazon and has made films.

João Almino is best known for his The Brasília Quintet, three of which have been translated into English. He is a diplomat by profession and, as well as novels, has written books on history and political philosophy.

Like Raduan Nassar, Milton Hatoum is of Lebanese descent. Four of his novels have appeared in English but he is best known for his Dois Irmãos, translated as Brothers.

Cristóvão Tezza finished his first book by the age of thirteen. He said it was very bad. He is best known for his work O Filho Eterno, translated into English as The Eternal Son, about a father coping with a child with Down’s syndrome. His novel Breve espaço entre cor e sombra was translated into English as Brief Space between Colour and Shade.

Bernardo Carvalho is another writer who is also a journalist. He has lived and worked in São Paulo, New York and Paris. Two of his novels have been published in English: Nove Noites (Nine Nights) and Medo de Sade (Fear of de Sade).

Patrícia Melo has written for film, TV and the theatre as well as writing novels, mainly police novels, heavy on the sex and violence. Six of her novels have been translated into English.

Rodrigo de Souza is primarily a poet. Because of mental health issues, he remained at home and communicated online. He is best known for his novel Todos os Cachorros São Azuis, translated into English as All Dogs are Blue.

Adriana Lisboa writes novels for adults and children and is also a poet, though she started life as a musician. She has translated from English, French and Spanish. Two of her books have been translated into English, in particular <Azul-corvo (Crow Blue).

Antônio Xerxenesky initially studied physics before switching to literature. None of his novels have been translated into English, which is a pity as his F is well worth reading.

There is no problem finding Luiza Sauma‘s work in English as, though she is Brazilian, she lives in London and writes in English.

For more writers writing in the 21st century, see these links: Top Brazilian novels of the 21st Century; Brazil does books as well as football; Os 25 Melhores Romances Brasileiros Do Século 21 / Best Brazilian Novels In The 21st Century (in Portuguese)

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