Mário de Andrade - a landmark precursor of Latin American magical realism. Dramatizing aspects of Brazil in transition (multiracial, Indian versus European, rural versus urban life), Macunaima undergoes sometimes hilarious, sometimes grotesque transformations until his final annihilation and apotheosis as the Great Bear constellation in the heavens

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Mário de Andrade, Macunaíma, Trans. by E. A. Goodland, Random House, 19848. [1928.]

Announcing a major literary event: here is the first translation into English of a landmark precursor of Latin American magical realism, which has informed the work of contemporary writers from Garcia Marquez to Salman Rushdie. Macunaima, first published in Portuguese in 1928, and one of the masterworks of Brazilian literature, is a comic folkloric rhapsody (call it a novel if you really want) about the adventures of a popular hero whose fate is intended to define the national character of Brazil.

"Inventive, blessedly unsentimental," as Kirkus Reviews has it, and incorporating and interpreting the rich exotic myths and legends of Brazil, Macunaima traces the hero's quest for a magic charm, a gift from the gods, that he lost by transgressing the mores of his culture. Born in the heart of the darkness of the jungle, Macunaima is a complex of contradictory traits (he is, of course, "a hero without a character"), and can at will magically change his age, his race, his geographic location, to suit his purposes and overcome obstacles. Dramatizing aspects of Brazil in transition (multiracial, Indian versus European, rural versus urban life), Macunaima undergoes sometimes hilarious, sometimes grotesque transformations until his final annihilation and apotheosis as the Great Bear constellation in the heavens.


The novel follows a young man, Macunaíma, "a hero without a character," born in the Brazilian jungle and possessing strange and remarkable abilities (Mostly Shapeshifting), as he travels to São Paulo and back again. The protagonist is often considered a representation of the Brazilian personality. The novel employs a composite structure using elements of what would later be called magic realism and a number of dialects of both interior Brazil and São Paulo. It is based on Andrade's research in language, culture, folklore, and music of the indigenous peoples in Brazil.
Macunaíma was an attempt on the part of Andrade to write a novel which represented pan-Brazilian cultura and language.[citation needed]. The author desired to write Macunaíma in the spoken language of Brazil. Macunaíma's catch phrase "Ai, que preguiça!" is a pun in both Tupi language and Portuguese as "Ai" is a Tupi word for sloth and "preguiça" is Portuguese for sloth. This is an example of Andrade using a fused language to write this text, which begins with a simple description "In the depths of the virgin jungle was born Macunaíma, hero of our people. He was jet black and son of the fear of the night".
Considered a "rhapsody" by Andrade himself, Macunaíma is a melding of the cultures of Brazil. Most of the folk lore contained within the text is taken directly from native stories; Lucia Sá has shown that Andrade's novel draws heavily on the narratives of the Pemon people that were collected and recorded by Theodor Koch-Grünberg.[1]
In the tale, Macunaíma travels from his home tribe in the jungle to São Paulo and back again, with chase scenes that go all over the country of in between, in order to retrieve an amulet which he lost. The amulet had been given to him by his lover, Ci before she ascended into the sky to become a star. He encounters all sorts of folk legends and orixas along the way. The interactions which Macunaíma had with most of these characters was imagined by Andrade, though the essence of the folk lore remains true. - wikipedia


A beautiful Brazilian modernist novel in an incredibly well-achieved translation into English. This books exudes fantasy, colours, smells (and ants), without ever losing the sense of being part of a universal cultural history. The perfect antidote to the essentialism of magical realism. - Fernando Sdrigotti

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