Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, the son of a mulatto father and a washerwoman, and the grandson of freed slaves, was not, originally, expecting literary encomiums in his lifetime, especially not for Brás Cubas. And yet, his prodigious output of novels, plays, and stories would influence generations of South American writers. Coats and Patterson breathe new life into the dynamic character of Brás Cubas and reveal the vivid, tempestuous Rio de Janeiro of his time.
Is it possible that the most modern, most startlingly avant-garde novel to appear this year was originally published in 1881? ... Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis’ masterpiece, a metafictional, metaphysical tale ... We read not for plot, in the usual sense, but to be close to Brás Cubas, his disarming candor and deeply merited self-disgust, and for the questions he prompts ... His favorite weapons are irony and charm — although he doesn’t shy from needling readers, especially critics, for their narrowness of taste and fondness for facile interpretation. (Duly noted.) He is a writer besotted with the license afforded by fiction ... Read Machado, and much contemporary fiction can suddenly appear painfully corseted and conservative ... Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson...offer little historical context, only sparse notes. Their book is unadorned, and often better for it, where the common reader is concerned. We encounter the novel not as a relic, encrusted with renown and analysis, much revered and much handled, but in all its freshness and truculent refusal of fiction’s tropes. Jull Costa and Patterson also offer the superior translation. The language is honed and specific, effortless yet charged with feeling ... For a writer with a bottomless bag of tricks, his core achievement is, finally, more humble and infinitely more dazzling than any special effect. It’s not exploring what the novel might be, but looking at people—purely and pitilessly—exactly as they are.
When first published in 1881, the book breathed new life into Brazilian literature. The new translation feels even fresher ... Brás Cubas narrates the events of his anticlimactic life with a humor that makes it hard to suppress a laugh ... plots and subplots have the kind of farce and wit one expects from a modern sitcom ... It is a distinctly realist writing that scrutinizes social relationships through the perspective of an egotistic, spoiled protagonist and is unencumbered by political movements of the time ... expansive and erudite references not only demonstrate the literary prowess of Machado de Assis but also, strangely enough, add to the lightheartedness of the book ... The most a reader can ask for is that the translation brings out the irony, wit, and playfulness of Machado de Assis’s prose. In that respect, this new translation by the duo is sure to impress ... With 160 short chapters in only 256 pages, the book may be a quick read but, when it ends, the reader is left yearning for more.
To tell his story, Bras Cubas patents a voice that is hilarious, irreverent and fractured. Machado imagined him in 1881, but he might have stepped out of today’s pages. Because he has no stake anymore in protecting his own reputation or in salvaging dead dreams, Bras Cubas is a free man ... Memoirs is an intricate, mirror-like work, with no faith in resolution. It’s fun to watch him second-guess himself ... Translator Margaret Jull Costa’s introduction to this newly rendered edition labels Bras’ narrative 'a catalogue of failures.' He likes to show himself in a bad (though human and understandable) light. Midway through the novel, he writes 'already, I’m beginning to regret this book. Not that I’m tired of it; I have nothing else to do' ... Machado is both playful and philosophical. From an imagined timelessness, he frees his hero to see his portion of the cosmos without the filter of a term limit. It’s a bracing perspective.