Book Title: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
Author(s): João Guimarães Rosa
Publisher: Knopf, Year: 1963
Language : English
Hardcover : 494 pages
ISBN-10 : 9997555449
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, also known as Grande Sertão: Veredas in Portuguese, is a novel by Brazilian writer João Guimarães Rosa. First published in 1956, the book is considered a masterpiece of Brazilian literature and has been translated into several languages. The story is set in the vast Brazilian backlands, a remote and arid region known as sertão, and it follows the adventures and musings of Riobaldo, a jagunço, or hired gun, who is torn between his loyalty to his captain and his search for redemption.
The novel is narrated in the first person by Riobaldo, who tells his life story in a long, digressive, and often poetic monologue. The narrative is structured as a series of conversations between Riobaldo and a stranger, who listens to him and occasionally interjects with questions or comments. The conversations take place over several nights, and the stranger’s identity remains a mystery until the end of the book.
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands is a complex and multilayered novel that touches on a variety of themes, including love, friendship, power, identity, and morality. One of the central themes of the book is the conflict between reason and intuition, or what Riobaldo calls “the world of words” and “the world of things.” Riobaldo, who is both a fierce fighter and a deep thinker, struggles to reconcile his actions with his beliefs and his feelings, and he often questions the legitimacy of his own perceptions.
Another important theme of the book is the relationship between humans and the natural world. The backlands, with their harsh landscapes and their sparse fauna and flora, are presented as both a source of danger and a source of wonder. Riobaldo, who is deeply connected to the land and its rhythms, sees himself as part of a larger ecosystem, and he expresses his admiration for the animals and plants that inhabit it. However, he also recognizes the destructive power of human actions, and he laments the loss of biodiversity and the erosion of traditional ways of life.
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands is also a novel about love and desire. Riobaldo, who is in his fifties when he tells his story, recalls his youthful infatuation with a woman named Otacília, who represents for him the epitome of beauty and grace. However, his love for her is complicated by his own sense of inadequacy and by the social conventions that prevent them from being together. Later in the book, Riobaldo also explores his attraction to a male friend, Diadorim, who becomes his closest companion and his greatest source of strength.
The writing style of The Devil to Pay in the Backlands is one of its most distinctive features. Guimarães Rosa, who was also a linguist and a diplomat, created a unique language for his novel, mixing regional dialects, archaic words, and invented expressions. The result is rich and evocative prose that captures the rhythms and the sounds of the backlands and challenges the reader to enter a world of unfamiliar syntax and vocabulary. The book is also full of metaphors, allegories, and allusions, which add to its complexity and its beauty.
In conclusion, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands is a challenging and rewarding novel that deserves its place among the greatest works of Latin American literature. Through the voice of Riobaldo, Guimarães Rosa explores the human condition with depth, intelligence, and compassion, and he invites us to ponder the mysteries of existence and the limits of our own understanding. This is a book that rewards careful reading and that lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.
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