cover image Macunaíma: The Hero with No Character

Macunaíma: The Hero with No Character

Mário de Andrade, trans. from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson. New Directions, $17.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2702-5

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. (Apr.)