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The Devil to Pay in the Backlands

João Guimarães Rosa
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant | Sense of Culture

In the only novel of the short-story writer and diplomat, existential themes come alive in the Brazilian sertão (roughly translated as the outback). Sometimes described as a “metaphysical novel” — or even the Brazilian equivalent of James Joyce’s Ulysses — Rosa’s work often employs a spoken language from the country’s backlands, a distinction that has made it stand out among the country’s most prominent works.

Dom Casmurro, book by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Dom Casmurro

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

The most famous book in the country. The entire story revolves around the main character (and unreliable narrator), who is unsure whether his wife cheated on him with his best friend. There’s too many evidence to ignore… or is he trying to find evidence where there is none?

(Recommended by Daniel Cassús)

House of the Fortunate Buddhas

João Ubaldo Ribeiro
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

When he died in 2014, Ribeiro was revered by many as Brazil’s greatest contemporary novelist, which makes it particularly unfortunate that only a handful of his books are available in English. From A Year of Reading the World: “Voice is this novel’s driving force. Prompted to record her story by a terminal illness, Ribeiro’s fearless narrator, a self-confessed ‘queen of lectures,’ recalls her heyday in the 1940s and ’50s. She focuses on her and her friends’ many and varied sexual exploits ‘at a time when everything was more difficult for women,’ attacking the social mores that straitjacket desire and force people to ‘live according to rules and patterns for which no human was made.'”

(Recommended by Ann Morgan, author and TED speaker)

Olga, book by Fernando Morais


Fernando Morais
CATEGORIES: Person/Place/Event

Based on the true story of Olga Benário Prestes, a German Jew who traveled to Brazil in 1935 to help instate a Communist regime in the country. Although she died young in a concentration camp, Prestes did more in her 34 years than most of us do in twice that time. In Berlin, a street and Stolperstein are named in her memory. There’s also a movie based on the book (although it’s somewhat overacted) and a German adaptation of the biography that I’d recommend more.

(Recommended by Daniel Cassús)

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