A brilliant new translation of the Brazilian modernist epic that aims to capture the country’s complex identity
Here at last is an exciting new edition of the Brazilian modernist epic Macunaíma: The Hero with No Character, by Mário de Andrade. This landmark 1928 novel follows the adventures of the shapeshifting Macunaíma and his brothers as they leave their Amazon home for a whirlwind tour of Brazil, cramming four centuries and a continental expanse into a single mythic plane. Having lost a magic amulet, the hero and his brothers journey to Sao Paulo to retrieve the talisman that has fallen into the hands of an Italo-Peruvian captain of industry (who is also a cannibal giant). Written over six delirious days—the fruit of years of study—Macunaíma magically synthesizes dialect, folklore, anthropology, mythology, flora, fauna, and pop culture to examine Brazilian identity. This brilliant translation by Katrina Dodson has been many years in the making and includes an extensive section of notes, providing essential context for this magnificent work.
Dodson, a PEN Award–winning translator of Clarice Lispector, breathes new life into this spirited modernist classic from Brazillian writer de Andrade (1893–1945), whose other translated works include Hallucinated City. A frequent refrain—"Ants aplenty and nobody's healthy, so go the ills of Brazil!"—captures only a hint of the 1928 novel's frenetic energy and satirizing humor. Over the course of hundreds of years, Macunaíma, a young man with ever-changing characteristics, travels with his brothers Jigue and Maanape from their homeland in the wild north of Brazil to the heart of São Paulo and back. Their mission is to retrieve a magical amulet, muiraquitã, from cannibal giant Venceslau Pietro Pietra. Along the way, de Andrade incorporates Indigenous Tupi and Pemon folklore, a West African Candomble religious ritual that allows people to communicate with deities, formal correspondence, popular vernacular, and continent-spanning botany. Macunaíma derives from an Indigenous Carib and Arawak shape-shifting trickster god, and de Andrade uses him as a blank canvas to explore Brazil's mass of contradictions; he is at various times Black, white, and Indigenous; wild and urbane; comically officious and boorishly crude, and morally inconsistent. In other words, according to de Andrade, "quintessentially Brazilian." Electrifying and perplexing, this cornerstone of Brazilian literature shouldn't be missed.