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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 )

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