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"One of the wittiest, most playful, and . . . most alive and ageless books ever written." --Dave Eggers, The New Yorker
A revelatory new translation of the playful, incomparable masterpiece of one of the greatest Black authors in the Americas
A Penguin Classic
The mixed-race grandson of ex-slaves, Machado de Assis is not only Brazil's most celebrated writer but also a writer of world stature, who has been championed by the likes of Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, Allen Ginsberg, John Updike, and Salman Rushdie. In his masterpiece, the 1881 novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (translated also as Epitaph of a Small Winner), the ghost of a decadent and disagreeable aristocrat decides to write his memoir. He dedicates it to the worms gnawing at his corpse and tells of his failed romances and halfhearted political ambitions, serves up harebrained philosophies, and complains with gusto from the depths of his grave. Wildly imaginative, wickedly witty, and ahead of its time, the novel has been compared to the work of everyone from Cervantes to Sterne to Joyce to Nabokov to Borges to Calvino, and has influenced generations of writers around the world.
This new English translation is the first to include extensive notes providing crucial historical and cultural context. Unlike other editions, it also preserves Machado's original chapter breaks--each of the novel's 160 short chapters begins on a new page--and includes excerpts from previous versions of the novel never before published in English.
Machado de Assis's brilliantly idiosyncratic 19th-century Brazilian classic stands alongside Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy as it follows the travails of self-described wastrel and mediocrity Br s Cubas, whose lone achievement in life has been as inventor of an antihypochondriacal miracle cure. As the novel opens, Cubas dies from pneumonia at the age of 64 and is ferried to the afterlife on the back of a giant hippopotamus. Now freed from consequence and public embarrassment, he sees fit to begin his memoirs, making a study of his lifelong indolence, dilettantism, and squandered genius. Educated at great expense in Portugal, Cubas fails to live up to early promise as a government minister in Rio de Janeiro. After his betrothed Virgilia is snatched away by a rival, Cubas settles for the life of a libertine. Matched in his mental peregrinations only by his lifelong friend, the philosopher of misery Quincas Borba, Cubas endows every episode with scintillating digressions on history and literature along with gentle mockery of his own hypocrisy and pretensions. Thomson-DeVeaux's limpid translation captures the charm and immediacy of de Assis (1839 1908), who seduces with short bursts of playful autobiography and bursts of exclamation ("Oh! There goes my pen, slipping over into the emphatic"). His masterpiece reads like the best of dreams.