A welcome omnibus edition of short fiction by the writer widely considered the greatest to have come out of Brazil.
The grandson of freed mixed-race slaves on his father’s side and son of a white Azorean mother, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) was a largely self-taught writer who worked in several genres, including drama and poetry, and much of whose prodigious output is not well-known outside his native Brazil. His stories are not always accurate gauges of what scholar Michael Wood calls “his evolution from a poorly educated child of impoverished parents to Brazil’s greatest writer and pillar of the establishment,” inasmuch as his stories, most of them set in Rio de Janeiro, are more the stuff of drawing rooms than favelas. This edition, comprising all seven collections published in Machado de Assis’ lifetime and including a dozen stories that have never before been translated into English, stands as a primary firsthand literary portrait of Brazil in its age of empire and especially of a city that was on its way from being a tropical backwater to its reinvention as a grand imperial metropolis. Close readers of Latin American literature will note in many of his stories early stirrings of magical realism, especially in their evocation of a musty past of nobles and antique surroundings: “Naturally, the mirror was very old, but you could still see the gilding, eaten away by time, a couple of carved dolphins in the top corners of the frame, a few bits of mother-of-pearl, and other such artistic flourishes.” Sometimes Machado de Assis reads like a European modernist (“On that day—sometime around 2222, I imagine—the paradox will take off its wings and put on the thick coat of common truth”), at others like the contemporary of Melville and Flaubert that he was (“I succumbed to the morbid pleasure of tormenting myself, for no good reason”). In whatever regard, this collection offers plenty of evidence for why he enjoys the reputation he does, a pioneer of moods and modes that include fables, thin satires, and even gothic romances.
Essential to students of Latin American and world literature.