José Lins do Rego’s Plantation Boy is the title given in English translation to three of the six novels known as the Sugar Cane Cycle. The trilogy Menino de engenho (plantation boy), Doidinho (literally, “daffy boy”), and Bangüê (old plantation) was followed by O moleque Ricardo (1935; black boy Richard), Usina (1936; the sugar refinery), and Fogo Morto (1943; dead fires), none of which has been translated into English. Menino de engenho views the plantation through the eyes of Carlos from the age of four to twelve; Doidinho describes Carlos’s early schooling under the tough discipline of a parochial school; and Bangüê, which picks up after a lapse of time in which Carlos has finished law school, traces his inability to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. Lins do Rego wrote thirteen novels and published several collections of essays, but he remains best known for the Sugar Cane Cycle.
Menino de engenho is somewhat autobiographical, for the author’s mother died a few months after his birth, and he was raised by his aunts and grandfather on his father’s plantation. The novel is divided into forty chapters that are more like vignettes, or related tales, than chapters of a sustained narrative. Indeed, the narrative seems modeled on a collection of personal observations or memories. Characters are developed by accretion, their appearance in various vignettes gradually producing more rounded images. Uncle Juca, for example, who at first appears merely as the man responsible for bringing the four-year-old boy from Recife to Santa Rosa, gradually emerges as a hardworking and competent plantation boss who satisfies his sexual urges with whatever worker’s daughter, sister, or even wife is at hand and unattended. The grandfather’s...
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