Menino de engenho. At the age of four, Carlos de Mello sees the bloody body of his dead mother shortly after his father killed her in an insane rage. The boy is taken from his city home in Recife to live with his maternal grandfather and aunts and uncles at the family sugar plantation, Santa Rosa. His father is confined to an asylum for the insane, where he dies, completely paralyzed, ten years later; Carlos never sees him again.
At Santa Rosa, Carlos begins a new life, the life of a plantation boy. Aunt Maria becomes his mother. On his first morning at the plantation, he is initiated into country life by learning to drink milk warm from the cow’s udder and to bathe in a pool by a waterfall. A few days later his cousins, two boys and a girl, arrive. The boys teach him wild country ways, such as how to ride bareback and how to go on secret swims. His cousin Lili, who is quiet, fair, and fragile, soon dies of a childhood illness.
One day, the famous bandit Antonio Silvino comes to Santa Rosa. Everyone fears what he will do, but he has come only to visit the colonel and pay his respects. Another time, the family has to abandon the plantation mansion and move to higher ground because the annual rains have turned into a flood that threatens the sugar mill and the house itself. The rains also leave behind rich soil that will mean a superior crop of sugar cane the next year. When a fire threatens the cane crop, all the plantation workers and neighboring owners come together to cut a swath between the fire and the rest of the fields to prevent the fire from spreading further.
Carlos always goes with his grandfather, Colonel José Paulino, on his inspection tours of the plantation. The colonel has expanded the original Santa Rosa plantation by buying neighboring properties, and now the plantation measures nine miles from end to end. The colonel has more than four thousand people under his protection, including former slaves who stayed on after the abolition of slavery in 1888 and still do the same work they did before. There are also tenant farmers who work the plantation in exchange for living on and farming their patches of land. On his inspection tours the colonel threatens shirkers, rewards the trustworthy, gathers news, offers food to the hungry and medicine to the ill—he is “the lord of the manor” visiting his lands and his “serfs.” The colonel is also judge and jury for his workers. Carlos sees him put a man in stocks for “compromising” a young girl, but the man continues to deny his guilt. Finally, the girl confesses that it is Uncle Juca who has made her pregnant.
Carlos’s country education includes the alphabet and reading lessons, but he learns much beyond his years from the plantation workers. As Zé Guedes walks Carlos to his lessons, he teaches the boy the lessons of life, introducing him to the prostitute Zefa Cajá, who provides the twelve-year-old Carlos...
(The entire section is 1200 words.)