The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas

Machado de Assis, trans. from the Portugese by Flora Thomson-DeVeaux. Penguin Classics, $17 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-0-14-313503-6
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 Brás 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. (June)
Reviewed on : 04/20/2020
Release date: 06/02/2020
Genre: Fiction
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