Now past sixty-five, Brazil's great sociologist of her Northeast has turned his highly literate pen to writing a novel, a ""semi-novel,"" that has its failures as well as its successes. Freyre's style has always been close to a certain genre of fiction, and his novel calls to mind the stately and elegant past of Santayana's Last Puritan, even though cast in more humble stone. The venue--always the same for Freyre--is Recife, and the scant tale is deeply set in the befores and afters of 1888-1889 when Brazil went through the eruption of emancipation and the overthrow of monarchy for republic. A note arrives at Freyre's door summoning him to the home of a wellborn widow who is not only an unknown distant relative but the exact prototype of the widow who is to figure in the novel that the author is about to write. Mirabile dictu, the parallels go on, and amazed the author releases himself from his novelist's vows and again becomes the sociological biographer.... This book--it hardly is a novel--isn't for everyone, but in its own private way it reveals much of fin de siecle Brazil when the sugar plantation owners reigned in Pernambuco and experience was the prerogative of the wealthy bucks and the impoverished blacks.