The history of Brazil is the history of proud, obsessive men whose dreams of wealth and power drove them to courage and brutality as they created empires for themselves and for Portugal. The fortunes of two families form the framework of this novel as it proceeds from the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500 to the founding of the new capital, Brasilia, in 1960. The noble Cavalcantis carve a plantation out of the Pernambuco wilderness of the north; the da Silvas, of mixed blood, search for El Dorado throughout the southern province of Minas Gerais, where they found a dynasty based on coffee.
Atrocity is piled upon atrocity as the native population is cheated, brutalized, enslaved, and finally massacred by the genocidal colonists. Later, the inexhaustible demand for cheap labor for the giant sugar and coffee plantations leads to the large-scale importation of African slaves: Frequent, futile, and very bloody slave rebellions recur throughout the novel.
Standing out against this dark background is the relative goodness of the Jesuits--who, indeed, are the only genuinely heroic and sympathetic characters here portrayed.
Uys’s unsentimentalized chronicle combines great adventure with an impressive level of historical research. His intermingling of the real historical individuals with the fictional Cavalcantis and da Silvas create an aura of verisimilitude that makes history come alive. The epic history of Brazil has been accorded its due in this novel.