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  • Writer's picturePru Warren

The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas

Well, I just read the damnedest book.

I’ve been on a real tear through the romance section of the digital bookstore lately, diligently working on expanding my understanding of my chosen genre – but then darling Sue’s adorable husband John PM’ed me on Facebook and told me he was reading this Brazilian book published in the 1880s, and I thought – aughhh?

“And it has a romance of the heart in it,” John typed. “An affaire.”

Okay. Now I can call it research. I bought the book and dove in, following in John’s wake.

And I mean – what the hell??

First of all, it’s written as if by a dead man, who is recounting his life. Already we’re in bizarre territory. The dedication reads “To the worm that first gnawed on the cold flesh of my cadaver, I dedicate as a fond remembrance these posthumous memoirs.”

Yeah. That's different. I am IN!

Next, there are 160 chapters, in a book that is 290 pages long. This thing reads like a fourth of July sparkler in the hands of a wildly-excited toddler. While there were many, many places where I laughed, I think my favorite moment was in chapter 136, which I will retype here in its entirety:

“But, either I am very much mistaken, or I have just written a useless chapter.”

Come on – how can you not love that??

The guy – Brás Cubas – turns out to be a pretty loathsome individual, and most of the book is him justifying increasingly horrible and selfish behavior… so for a while, I thought I didn’t like the book. But I couldn’t put it down. Who could, with paragraphs like this one to describe the early years of his life:

“I grew up; this the family had no part in; I grew naturally, the way magnolias or cats do. Cats may be less shrewd, and magnolias are certainly less restive than I was as a child.”

Ultimately, I decided that the actual author of Brás Cubas’ memoirs – Machado de Assis – was clever and witty and definitely off-balance. And I decided that without looking at any of the earlier translations, it was important to advise you to get the most recent version of this book in English, because it’s translated by a woman named Flora Thompson-DeVeaux, and she put end notes in about just about every chapter, which give gossipy, fascinating details about Cuban culture of the period, classical literature, the challenges of translation, the cleverness of some word choices, and about a million more topics.

And if you get bogged down reading some 45 pages of thoughtful forewords and serious introductions, keep going, because the book itself is... well, it’s just the damnedest thing.

I’m going back to actual romances now, but I’ve very much enjoyed my brief sojourn in the land of LITrachah! Whacha reading next, John??

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