If you have read some of my previous posts you may have noticed that I had a gold (lecture) fever rush a decade ago or so. I tried to touch the sun too early. But though I had the will I had not the maturity to seize the grandeur of some books.
In this category of made-in-heaven works was Diadorim, in its translation into French (Grande sertaõ: Veredas in its original language, Portuguese; The devil to pay in the backlands in English). The dense paperback announced 616 pages. In my first try, some eleven years ago, I managed to make it up to page 146, but I couldn’t understand the story so I gave up.
The translation was one of the problems. It comes from a difficulty self-imposed : I read Spanish- and XX-XXI century English- and French-language books in their original versions. For any other language, say Russian, German or Portuguese, I try to find the french version, my weakest one. That gives me the opportunity to practice my French but makes sometimes my reading harder. I guess my French is now better so now I could enjoy more of my reading.
The complexity of the story was, and has remained, the second issue. Now that I think of it, any translation of this book should be a pain in the arse, a major challenge for whoever dares to accept the task. As the introduction by Mario Vargas Llosa says, Grande sertaõ: Veredas is several stories at the same time. It is a tale of a land where anyone may loose his way, the enormities of the sertões that cross the states of Bahia, Minas and Goias in gigantic Brazil’s hinterlands. It’s a tale of a war. A stupid war maybe, between gangs of jagunços, end-of-1800s mix of outlaws, cowboys and simpletons, but full of courage and honor. It’s a tribute to the Brazilian Portuguese language itself (and the courage of the translators), where every corner of the land has its own bizarre name, where we get to know the forename and surname of a few men, but the nickname of all. Where there is such an almost infinite variety of trees, flowers, plants, beasts, birds, insects that we are tempted to think it as an overloaded nightmare-daymare. It is also the story of the devil, hidden and present at the same time, with whom the hero or his foe might have made a secret deal.
But it is also a love story. A forbidden love. A man to man love that does not unfold until the very end. And on top of that, there’s is the writing style: a frenetic monologue by the main character Riobaldo, alias Tatarana, alias white rattlesnake, with no pauses, no chapters!
At the beginning, I had the sensation that all this was no sense. A hundred pages and very few was shown . But as you get deeper into the story, you are caught in the frenetic madness of the now memories of an old man, you end up being eaten by the sertaõ page by page.
I mention Vargas Llosa again because he directed me to this book, through his own magnificent novel La Guerra del fin del mundo, -for me his finest-which happens not far from the sertaõ, with some decades of difference.
Grande sertaõ : Veredas is without doubt one of the greatest works in the universal literature. A feast of fiction, of grandiosity. A work hard to compare or to match. An unforgettable moment and a great pleasure. I wish I could thank Guimaraes Rosa for his work; I will rather thank life for the opportunity to read his novel.