Grande Sertão: Veredas - the novel

Grande Sertão: Veredas (Portuguese for "Great Backlands: Paths"; English translation: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands) is a novel published in 1956 by the Brazilian writer João Guimarães Rosa.

Grande Sertão: Veredas is the complex story of Riobaldo, a former jagunço (mercenary or bandit) of the poor and steppe-like inland of the Rio São Francisco, known as Sertão, of the state of Minas Gerais in the dawn of the 20th century. Now an old man and a rancher, Riobaldo tells his long story to an anonymous and silent listener coming from the city. The book is written in one long section, with no section or chapter breaks.

The original title refers to the veredas - small paths through wetlands usually located at higher altitudes characterized by the presence of grasses and buritizais, groups of the buriti palm-tree (Mauritia flexuosa),[1] that criss-cross the Sertão region in northern Minas Gerais as a labyrinthine net where an outsider can easily get lost, and where there is no single way to a certain place, since all paths interconnect in such a way that any road can lead anywhere. The English title refers to a later episode in the book involving an attempt to make a deal with the Devil.

(from Wikipedia)

I discovered João Guimarães Rosa a long time ago. I was completely seduced by this narrative, and it became my bedside book. It’s not just a book that you read, but one that gives us strength to also write.
— Jacques Rancière
I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s the most beautiful thing of late. I do not know how far his (Rosa’s) inventive power goes, it excedes the imaginable limit. I’m even dumbfounded. His language, so perfect also in intonation, is directly understood by our intimate language - and in that sense he more than invented, he discovered, or rather invented the truth. What more could one want? I even get upset from liking it so. Now I understand your enthusiasm, Fernando. (...) The book is giving me a reconciliation with everything, explaining guesses, enhancing everything. It’s all worth it! The slightest attempt is worth it. (...) I think the same as you: Genious. What other name to give?
— Clarice Lispector, writer, in a letter to Fernando Sabino.
The true theme of “Grande Sertão: Veredas” is the diabolical possession, said the critic Emir Rodriguez Monegal in a penetrating analysis of the work of Guimarães Rosa, and this statement is perfectly valid [...]. It turns out that the reality most deeply reflected in the book is neither human conduct, nor nature, nor word, but the soul. Riobaldo’s odyssey carries within itself, implicitly, like a secret thread that guides and justifies it, a metaphysical interrogation about good and evil. It is a mask which conceals a demonstration of Satan’s powers on Earth and on man. The anecdote, the language, the structure of the novel must then be regarded as keys whose profound meaning leads to a mystique one. Neither the work of cloak-and-dagger, nor the tower of Babel, “Grande Sertão: Veredas” would in this perspective be a cathedral full of symbols, a kind of Masonic temple.
— Mario Vargas Llosa, preface to the French translation of the novel
The real romance is between Joyce and the language,” wrote critic Harry Levin of Finnegans Wake. I believe that one could apply the same observation to Grande Sertao: Veredas, by Guimarães Rosa. By this, one does not want to minimize the ‘message’ of such works. But to emphasize that the great contents of the Grande Sertão, like those of Joyce, are solved not only through, but in the language.
— Augusto de Campos, poet, “Um lance de ‘dès’ do Grande sertão”
In the extraordinary masterpiece Grande sertão: Veredas there is everything for those who know how to read, and in it everything is strong, beautiful, impeccably accomplished. Each one will be able to approach it to his taste, according to his vocation; but in each aspect the fundamental trait of the author will appear, the total confidence in the freedom to invent. In a literature of the “vasqueira” imagination, where most people will only border the novel, the navigation on the high seas is dazzling, this spurt of creative imagination in the language, composition, plot, psychology.
— Antonio Candido, historian of literature and literary critic, “O homem dos avessos”
Even though the subject of Guimarães Rosa’s books, and especially his magnificent epic novel, Grande Sertão: Veredas, is spectacular and encompasses a world of violence, of passions, of religious terrors, Guimarães Rosa (like Mallarmé, like Borges) knew that literature is, first and foremost, verse. A profound moral and religious sense, which kept him away from certain extremes of William Faulkner’s tortured puritanism and which runs through all his work, did not prevent that, for him, verse (the verb) was at the beginning of all things.
— Emir Rodriguez Monegal, uruguayan critic, director of Mundo Nuevo magazine (Paris)
 
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