"A palm tree, seeing me troubled and divining the cause, murmured in its branches that there was nothing wrong with fifteen-year old boys getting into corners with girls of fourteen; quite the contrary, youths of that age have no other function, and corners were made for that very purpose. It was an old palm-tree, and I believed in old palm-trees even more than in old books. Birds, butterflies, a cricket trying out its summer song, all the living things of the air were of the same opinion." So begins this extraordinary love story between Bento and Capitu, childhood sweethearts who grow up next door to each other in Rio de Janeiro in the 1850s.
Like other great nineteenth century novels--The Scarlet Letter, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary--Machado de Assis's Dom Casmurro explores the themes of marriage and adultery. But what distinguishes Machado's novel from the realism of its contemporaries, and what makes it such a delightful discovery for English-speaking readers, is its eccentric and wildly unpredictable narrative style. Far from creating the illusion of an orderly fictional "reality," Dom Casmurro is told by a narrator who is disruptively self-conscious, deeply subjective, and prone to all manner of marvelous digression. As he recounts the events of his life from the vantage of a lonely old age, Bento continually interrupts his story to reflect on the writing of it: he examines the aptness of an image or analogy, considers cutting out certain scenes before taking the manuscript to the printer, and engages in a running, and often hilarious, dialogue with the reader. "If all this seems a little emphatic, irritating reader," he says, "it's because you have never combed a girl's hair, you've never put your adolescent hands on the young head of a nymph..." But the novel is more than a performance of stylistic acrobatics. It is an ironic critique of Catholicism, in which God appears as a kind of divine accountant whose ledgers may be balanced in devious as well as pious ways. It is also a story about love and its obstacles, about deception and self-deception, and about the failure of memory to make life's beginning fit neatly into its end. First published in 1900, Dom Casmurro is one of the great unrecognized classics of the turn of the century by one of Brazil's greatest writers. The popularity of Machado de Assis in Latin America has never been in doubt and now, with the acclaim of such critics and writers as Susan Sontag, John Barth, and Tony Tanner, his work is finally receiving the worldwide attention it deserves.
Newly translated and edited by John Gledson, with an afterword by Joao Adolfo Hansen, this Library of Latin America edition is the only complete, unabridged, and annotated translation of the novel available. It offers English-speaking readers a literary genius of the rarest kind.
Esau and Jacob is the last of Machado de Assis's four great novels. At one level it is the story of twin brothers in love with the same woman and her inability to choose between them. At another level, it is the story of Brazil itself, caught between the traditional and the modern, and between the monarchical and republican ideals. Instead of a heroic biblical fable, Machado de Assis gives us a story of the petty squabbles, conflicting ambitions, doubts, and insecurities that are part of the human condition.
"Be aware that frankness is the prime virtue of a dead man," writes the narrator of The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas. But while he may be dead, he is surely one of the liveliest characters in fiction, a product of one of the most remarkable imaginations in all of literature, Brazil's greatest novelist of the nineteenth century, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis.
By turns flippant and profound, The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas is the story of an unheroic man with half-hearted political ambitions, a harebrained idea for curing the world of melancholy, and a thousand quixotic theories unleashed from beyond the grave. It is a novel that has influenced generations of Latin American writers but remains refreshingly and unforgettably unlike anything written before or after it. Newly translated by Gregory Rabassa and superbly edited by Enylton de Sa Rego and Gilberto Pinheiro Passos, this Library of Latin America edition brings to English-speaking readers a literary delight of the highest order.
Along with The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas and Dom Casmurro, Quincas Borba is one of Machado de Assis' major works and indeed one of the major works of nineteenth century fiction. With his uncannily postmodern sensibility, his delicious wit, and his keen insight into the political and social complexities of the Brazilian Empire, Machado opens a fascinating world to English speaking readers.
When the mad philosopher Quincas Borba dies, he leaves to his friend Rubiao the entirety of his wealth and property, with a single stipulation: Rubiao must take care of Quincas Borba's dog, who is also named Quincas Borba, and who may indeed have assumed the soul of the dead philosopher. Flush with his newfound wealth, Rubiao heads for Rio de Janeiro and plunges headlong into a world where fantasy and reality become increasingly difficult to keep separate. Brilliantly translated by Gregory Rabassa, Quincas Borba is a masterful satire not only on life in Imperial Brazil but the human condition itself.