12 March 2013

Grande Sertão: Veredas Group Read, May 2013

The devil is coming.

O diabo na rua no meio do redemoinho.*

The demon in the street, in the middle of the devil wind.

The devil in the street, in the midst of the dust devil.

Coming in May is a group reading of a Latin American masterpiece from Brazil: Grande Sertao: Veredas by João Guimarães Rosa (translated into English as The Devil to Pay in the Backlands).

The event is hosted by Richard of Caravana de recuerdos, Scott of seraillon, Miguel of St. Orberose, and me. Miguel will read the original Portuguese, Richard the Spanish translation, Scott the French translation, and I the English translation. The group read badge is designed by Scott based on a Portuguese edition of the book.

The novel recounts the violent wars raging in the hinterlands of Brazil. It is narrated by Riobaldo, a jagunço or bandit, to an unnamed interlocutor. Riobaldo candidly shares his thoughts and in the process betrays his philosophical meditations on various existential questions.

Grande Sertão: Veredas is considered by many to be the Great Brazilian Novel of the 20th century, "the Brazilian Ulysses" in Joshua Cohen's list of cultural Ulyssi. Its translation, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, is said to be a flawed and abridged translation but nonetheless is still cinematic and powerful. (Comparing a fragment from the English version with a retranslation of the same fragment, one can see that the two versions are at least "comparable".)

Everyone is invited to read along with us in any language the book is available in. Readers can post their thoughts on the book on their blog/site on the last week of May. And then we'll discuss!

Regarding the availability of the English translation, used copies command very steep prices from online sellers, so only the libraries can be the viable sources of a copy. If it's not in your nearest library, you can try interlibrary loan, if that's possible.

* The epigraph of the novel already hints at the playful quality of the language. The translation will have to consider the word play: whatever linguistic solution will reflect the way the Portuguese word for devil (diabo or demo) is sandwiched inside – right in the middle of – the word for wind (redemoinho).

The devil in the street, in the whirl of the whirlwind.

The demon in the street, in the furnace of firestorm.



  1. Super excited about this, Rise--thanks so much for agreeing to reread this alongside me and the other first-timers!

  2. As am I, Richard. And in such good company!

  3. Just checked my library & no luck, so will follow from the shadows. Sounds great.

  4. I'm afraid that's the case in some libraries. Many copies for sale online are withdrawn library copies.

  5. I'll join you. I've got a German copy. The kept the original title which I find interesting.

  6. Glad to hear that, Caroline. There's a new German translation announced last year and expected to come out in a couple more years. It was also said that an English retranslation will keep the original title. But that new translation was ever elusive.

  7. Rise - Thanks for co-hosting. Should have an announcement on my blog up soon (in the unlikely event that anyone who hasn't learned about it yet might learn about it there). I'm thrilled that Caroline will be adding the German translation; this may end up like the blind men and the elephant.

  8. Scott, it should be a great discussion, whether we like the book/translation or not.

    I like the blind men-elephant description of it!

  9. The blind man and the elephant comparison so apt.
    I had a look at the lonk you added and just on the first page there are so many differneces between the Brazilian, the English and the German. The German translator added so many words. No wonder my cipy seems longer.

  10. Hmmm. I read somewhere that the German was more well regarded than the English. In any case, the translators are like a group of blind around the elephant too!