14 must-reads in Brazilian literature for every book lover

. Apr 23, 2019

Brazilian literature manages to encapsulate the Portuguese language with a Brazilian flair and local themes. Even for those reading the translated versions, these authors will captivate you with their earnest characters and courageous narratives.

As Brazilian literature encompasses so many masterful authors, we’ve made an effort not to repeat works from the same writer. However, we made one exception with Machado de Assis—the most influential author in Brazilian literature sees two of his works enter this list.

Book lovers, get your pen and paper at the ready, because you’re going to want to take notes.

</span></p> <h2><i>O Quinze</i>, Rachel de Queiroz (1930)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian journalist, author, and diplomat Rachel de Queiroz published her first work, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">O Quinze</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, or &#8220;The Year Fifteen&#8221;, in 1930—when she was only 20 years old. Born in Fortaleza, Ceará in 1910, Ms. Queiroz led a prolific life, recognized for her newspaper columns, novels, and short stories. In 1964, Queiroz represented Brazil at the United Nations and became the first women to enter the Brazilian Academy of Letters.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">O Quinze</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, Queiroz provides a portrait of the Northeastern Brazilian man at the turn of the century. Faced with the great drought of 1915, the migrant Chico Bento and his family journey to the Amazon.</span></p> <h2><i>The Feint</i>, Sérgio Rodrigues (2013)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Recently published by Brazilian journalist and author Sérgio Rodrigues, <em>The Feint</em> features a weary sports commentator and equates the talents of soccer legends Didi, Zidane, and Falcão to the prose of Vladimir Nabokov. Rodrigues&#8217; book won the Portugal Telecom Grand Prize.</span></p> <h2><i>Time and the Wind</i>, Erico Verissimo (1951)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This epic by popular 20th-century writer Erico Verissimo comes in three parts:  </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Continent</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Portrait</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Archipelago</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">. The trilogy narrates the formation of Brazil&#8217;s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. Verissimo&#8217;s work spans 200 years of history, from 1745 to 1945. Over these years, Brazil&#8217;s South was characterized by oligarchy, internal wars, and border conflicts.</span></p> <h2><i>Captains of the Sands</i>, Jorge Amado (1937)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In this <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=014310635X&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=plus55brazil-20&amp;linkId=537a234a80950d2dac997f588bce57b2">revolutionary work</a>, Jorge Amado portrays the lives of the street children of Salvador, one of the major cities in Brazil&#8217;s Northeast. In this gang of 100 street kids, ages 7 to 15, there are leaders, teachers, dreamers, and lovers. At the time, however, Amado received harsh criticism for integrating aspects of Afro-Brazilian culture, such as Candomblé and capoeira, into his works. In the year of its publishing, over 800 copies of the book were burned in the capital square.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The book gained a film adaptation in 2011, directed by the author&#8217;s own granddaughter, Cecilia Amado. Watch the trailer here.</span></p> <p><iframe title="CAPTAINS OF THE SANDS Capitães da Areia TRAILER" width="1200" height="675" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <h2><i>Lampião and Lancelot</i>, Fernando Vilela (2006)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In this book, legendary folk heroes of two very different worlds meet. Lampião is a real-life bandit from Brazil&#8217;s Northeast, who enjoyed much popular support for becoming a Robin Hood-esque figure. In Vilela&#8217;s adventure, he encounters medieval knight Lancelot, who challenges him to a duel. The book won two Jabuti awards, the most important in Brazilian literature.</span></p> <h2><i>1808</i>, Laurentino Gomes (2007)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In this <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0762787961&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=plus55brazil-20&amp;linkId=27cf8bbbb8c6a16e2048a9143b116d1d">page-turning portrayal of history</a>, Queen Maria of Portugal and her cowardly son João flee to Brazil under Napoleon&#8217;s threat of war. As a result, Brazil becomes a state, at last. Gomes&#8217; book won the Jabuti award for Novel-Reportage as well as the Non-Fiction Book of the Year.</span></p> <h2><i>I&#8217;d receive the worst news from your beautiful lips</i>, Marçal Aquino (2005)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The screenwriter and journalist Marçal Aquino masters the gritty suspense of a deadly affair between photographer Cauby and his lover Lavínia. Aquino writes his books for the screen, in order to pull more people towards his characters. This particular work sold 25,000 copies and reached millions in a TV adaption. While his work doesn&#8217;t yet have an English translation, it&#8217;s currently available in Spanish.</span></p> <h2><i>City of God</i>, Paulo Lins (1997)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Paulo Lins&#8217; book follows the transformation of his hometown favela: Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio de Janeiro. The author traces the roots of his community from the small-time criminality of the 1960s to the full-blown drug gang violence of the 1990s. Lins spent eight years collecting the information for his book, also working as a research assistant in an anthropological study about crime in favelas. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The book inspired the blockbuster Brazilian movie of the same name, which premiered only five years after the book itself. In the movie version of </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">City of God</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, the main character is a spin-off of Lins himself.</span></p> <p><iframe title="City of God (2002) Official Trailer - Crime Drama HD" width="1200" height="675" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <h2><i>Pornopopeia</i>, Reinaldo Moraes (2009)</h2> <p><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Pornopopeia</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> exploded on to the Brazilian literary scene as São Paulo&#8217;s answer to </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Trainspotting</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">. The book tells the story of a struggling cinematographer, who makes a living filming commercials for obscure brands. When the protagonist accepts a job to film a commercial for a sausage company, he ends up mixed up in a sex and drug-trafficking ring. His involvement spirals and he ends up participating in the murder of a drug dealer and fleeing to a small beach town, where he joins the beatnik movement.</span></p> <h2><i>Macunaíma</i>, Mario de Andrade (1928)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the style of magical realism and regional dialects, Mario de Andrade tells the story of Macunaíma, born in the Brazilian jungle with special shapeshifting powers. His protagonist travels to São Paulo and back again, taking the readers through polar opposites of Brazilian life. In fact, Macunaíma is a representation of the Brazilian character as a whole. Andrade based his work off his research on Brazilian linguistics, culture, and indigenous folklore.</span></p> <h2><i>The Passion According To G.H.</i>, Clarice Lispector (1964)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This work by Ukrainian-Brazilian writer and journalist Clarice Lispector takes us into the mind of a woman who goes only by the initials G.H. Her book comes in the form of a monologue, recounting her crisis after killing a cockroach in her wardrobe.</span></p> <h2><i>The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas</i>, Machado de Assis (1881)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The deceased protagonist Brás Cubas narrates his own life story from beyond the grave, reliving his mistakes and failed romances. Published in 1881, the novel plays with surreal devices of metaphor and narrative construction, very unlike the clear, realist novels of his contemporaries.</span></p> <h2><i>The Slum</i>, Aluísio Azevedo (1890)</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This book epitomizes Brazil’s naturalist movement. Aluísio Azevedo narrates the life of Portuguese immigrants, former slaves, and mixed-race people living in the same impoverished community. Their characters and behavior change according to their environment, race, and social position.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Azevedo&#8217;s novel is key to understanding 19th century Brazil. He describes the raw social dynamic between whites and non-whites. In fact, the slum is as much a character itself as the people who live in it. A perfect book for a binge read.</span></p> <h2><i>Dom Casmurro</i>, Machado de Assis (1899)</h2> <p><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Dom Casmurro </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">is certainly one of the greatest works in the history of Brazilian literature. Machado de Assis tells the story of adultery through the eyes of a betrayed husband. The husband tells of how his wife Capitu (Capitolina, in allusion to the Roman Capitolinus) cheated on him with his best friend. She later gives birth to a son that the narrator believes is not his.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, the narrator doesn&#8217;t seem to have any solid facts. In fact, his story of betrayal almost sounds like one of paranoia. As a result, the reader never quite knows whether or not Capitu really cheated on her husband. Machado de Assis, however, said that the book contains all the pieces to the puzzle. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Can you solve the mystery?</span></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;"><strong><em>Note: We had originally translated Sérgio Rodrigues&#8217; book &#8216;O Drible&#8217; as &#8220;The Dribble.&#8221; After the author expressed his preference for &#8220;The Feint,&#8221; we have changed the text.</em></strong>

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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