Discover writer Machado de Assis
If you have to read one, and only one, Brazilian author, make no mistake and chose Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908), the descendent of slaves that painted caustic portraits of Rio upper classes of the end of the 19th century.
A few years ago, The New York Times published a pretty cool hagiography about Machado:
Susan Sontag, an early and ardent admirer, once called him “the greatest writer ever produced in Latin America,” surpassing even Borges. In his 2002 book “Genius,” the critic Harold Bloom went even further, saying that Machado was “the supreme black literary artist to date.” Comparisons to Flaubert and Henry James, Beckett and Kafka abound, and John Barth and Donald Barthelme have claimed him as an influence.
This list should include another wonderful writer comparable to Machado, but little known outside of the Portuguese speaking world: Eça de Queiróz, a Realist author from Portugal that also explores with elegance the underground of the social relationships. (Try Queiroz’ “Cousin Bazilio“, similar but, in my opinion, more perverse than Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”; or the anti-church libel “The Crime of Father Amaro”, that inspired a film with Gael Garcia Bernal)
The first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (a feat at the time – remember, he was half Black) produced dozens of novels, short stories, plays and poems.The web offers both Portuguese and English versions of several samples of Machado’s work. Pick one or a few, I can guarantee you wont regret the time investment.
If you read Portuguese, go directly to Machado de Assis – Obra Completa, a website created by the Ministry of Culture that offers all the author books and short stories in both PDF and HTML formats. I particularly recommend “Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Dom Casmurro” and the short story “A Cartomante” and “Missa do Galo“.
If you are looking for English translations, try these appetizers:
“The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas: Epitaph of a Small Winner” – opening chapter translated by Gregory Rabassa.
Finally, check the post 12 best characters of Brazilian literature for a couple of unforgettable Machado characters.
Tags: 19th Century, Literature, Machado de Assis