One of those all-encompassing, magically realistic South American epics--this one devoted to the spirit of the Brazilian people and shot through with polemics and semi-learned dissertations. For all that, its tale of nationalistic fervor and revolt is boisterous and ribald. The story, which takes place over some 400 years but mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, mixes myth, folktale, invention, and realistic instances to fictionalize the history of Portugal in Brazil--a history of imperialism, slavery, and Catholic antihumanism. The mystical bloodlines include Perilo Ambrosio, a 19th-century Baron who finally dies of a curse, and Capiroba, a 17th-century cannibal who domesticates Dutchmen as livestock. A character such as Amleto Ferreira makes his way by taking control of the sick Baron's wealth, and eventually selling much of it, such as the fishery, to himself, perpetuating but transferring the power structure; another, such as Maria da Fe, becomes a ""great bandit,"" able to enchant possible enemies, creating an underground or alternative structure. Ze Popo, who descends through generations from the Great Mother Dadinha, goes to Paraguay at the urging of his father to fight against Brazil's enemies, but he returns to tell the ugly truth about war. While a kind of blood-memory and theory of reincarnation help tie together the episodes structurally, thematically the book constantly returns to ""the people."" After innumerable instances of torture, mutilation, degradation and betrayal; after short dissertations on politics, religion, social customs, medicine, slavery, the armadillo, and the puffer fish (among other things), it concludes with a lyrical evocation of the immortal Spirit of Man. Long-winded politically, hardly Garcia Mrquez, but, nonetheless, inventive and lively.