João GuimarãesRosa Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

João Guimarães Rosa (gee-ma-RAYNS ROH-sa) is generally regarded as the most important writer of fiction in twentieth century Brazil. The eldest of six children of a well-to-do businessman, he was born in the small town of Cordisburgo in central Brazil. He attended school in the state capital of Belo Horizonte and later completed medical school in the same city. He practiced medicine in the interior for some years, first as a private physician and later with the Brazilian National Guard. In 1934 he passed the Foreign Service examination, entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and enjoyed a distinguished career in the Brazilian diplomatic service, attaining the rank of ambassador in 1958. Twice married, he had two daughters by his first Rosa, Jo{atilde}o[Guimaraes Rosa, Joao]}{$S[A]Rosa, Jo{atilde}o Guimar{atilde}es[Rosa, Joao Guimaraes];Guimar{atilde}es Rosa, Jo{atilde}o}es Rosa, Jo{atilde}o[Guimaraes Rosa, Joao]}es Rosa, Jo{atilde}o[Guimaraes Rosa, Joao]}

Although the bulk of his work was short fiction, Guimarães Rosa is probably best known for his single novel, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, the monologue of a former bandit about the meaning of life, particularly the significance of evil and love. The chapterless text runs to more than five hundred pages in length and is characterized not only by the thematic breadth and suggestive resonance of the narrative but also by the daunting complexity and novelty of the language in which it is told. In fact, all Guimarães Rosa’s fiction is marked by linguistic experimentation, a feature that accounts for the unevenness of the quality of the translations and also helps to explain why so few of such an important author’s works are available in any of the major European languages.

Even though the density and intricacy of language is a constant, many of Guimarães Rosa’s works have a fairly conventional narrative structure. Sagarana, his first work, for example, contains nine tales that resemble very traditional forms such as the trickster tale, the fable, and the saint’s tale. Guimarães Rosa wrote the first draft of this book in the late 1930’s. When it garnered only second place in a national contest, he left it in a drawer and was not persuaded to edit and publish it until almost a decade later.

Yet another decade passed before his second book appeared, and many had begun to think Guimarães Rosa had exhausted his imagination on the first book. In 1956, however, he published not one but two books. The first, Corpo de Baile (corps de ballet), contained tales of such length that the book first appeared in two volumes, and later editions appeared in three. There are only seven stories in the book, which naturally piqued interest in the question of genre, since the tales were impossibly long to be considered short stories yet not quite long enough to qualify as novels. The second book to appear in 1956 was The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, a massive narrative; again critics called this work a...

(The entire section is 1237 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

João Guimarães Rosa was a quiet, myopic child with a taste for natural history and a formidable talent for learning languages. After studying medicine, he practiced in a small town in the sertão, acquiring there a profound knowledge of the land and people. He divided his subsequent years between various government posts and the diplomatic corps, ending his career with the rank of ambassador. He was elected unanimously to the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1963, and in 1965, he served as vice president at the first Latin American Writers Conference in Mexico City. He died in November, 1967, of a brain hemorrhage.