Previous Posts: Books: February 2013

Book Reviews: Epitaph of a Small Winner / The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Machado De Assis)

A winner. A work so "modern" and bracing it's hard to believe it was penned in 1880.



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I am a deceased writer not in the sense of one who has written and is now deceased, but in the sense of one who had died and is now writing.

Fiction is about what's impossible, but not what's implausible. It is impossible that a man would tell us his autobiography in the form of a novel after his own death. It is not implausible that he would use such a story to ruthlessly burst apart the hypocrisy of others, and himself as well. A dead man worries nothing about his reputation or his standing in the eyes of others — except maybe posthumously, and even then why should he, in limbo, worry? — and so who but someone like him would be best suited to showing up the living for the fools they are?

Epitaph of a Small Winner —  also known as The Posthumous Memoirs of Braz Cubas  — is one of those miracles of literature that seems to have barely any right to exist in the first place. Its pessimism and bitter irony seem decades, if not centuries, out of phase from the 1880 in which it was written — more the child of a Luigi Pirandello or even a Louis-Ferdinand Céline (although without that author's repugnancy). Wipe away the topical details of life in late 19th century Brazil, and you have a story that not only hasn't dated but seems immune to irrelevancy.

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