Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, Guimarães Rosa’s first and only novel, continues to excite the literary public. The novel was published ten years after the publication of Sagarana (1946). That same year, Guimarães Rosa also published Corpo do Baile (1956), a collection of seven long short stories that, together with The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, established the author as the single standard of excellence in modern Brazilian fiction. His works represent a break with the opposing trends of rural versus urban and regional versus universal that have been traditional to the literary narrative in Latin America. He does this by transforming immediate reality into spiritual and metaphysical symbols with universal implications, by the use of literary techniques such as the manipulation of language and plot chronology, and by the use of a combination of monologue and dialogue that features both a first-person narrator and an interlocutor.

João Guimarães Rosa’s contribution effectively puts him into the company of Magical Realist innovators such as Miguel Angel Asturias and Alejo Carpentier. He is also an important contributor to the Latin American literary “Boom” of the 1960’s that included Juan Rulfo, Jose Lezema Lima, Julio Cortázar, Augusto Roa Bastos, Jose Donoso, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel García Márquez.

Before his death in 1967, Guimarães Rosa published Primeiras Estorias (1962; The Third Bank of the River and Other Stories, 1968) and Tutaméia (1967; Trifle, 1967), both collections of short stories. Estas Estorias (1969; These Stories, 1969) and Ave, Palavra (1970; Hail, Word, 1970) are collections of short stories published after his death that served to embellish his place in the history of Brazilian letters.