Style and Technique

Guimarães Rosa is Brazil’s monster of style, in the sense that James Joyce was such a monster in English. Anyone who knows his work can identify a single line read aloud as his or not his, because the diction of all of his works is “strange”—he is fond of neologisms, back formations, foreign words, Latinisms, pleonasms, expletives, unfamiliar word order, internal rhyme, onomatopoeia—the list is long. Such diction is difficult to render into English, with the result that those few works that have been translated are all much more “flat” in English than they were in Portuguese: The story is still there, but the surprises and delights produced by language alone are largely absent.

The stories in the volume in which this story appears are probably less dizzying from the perspective of language than are many of his others, which may be one reason that this volume is one of the few translated. However, even in English the story is too elliptical, not sufficiently informational, to satisfy readers who desire full understanding on a first reading. There is great range in the length of Guimarães Rosa’s stories, from some early ones of more than one hundred pages to later ones that barely cover two printed pages. In all these stories, two elements of composition, language and perception, are at once stumbling blocks to the reader and keys to understanding the fictions. Guimarães Rosa did not write about the fantastic, but the world about which he writes is one in which the rules are not those of the rather more banal world that most people inhabit, and because the world is perceived as larger and more open to such things as three-banked rivers, the language used to narrate the tales is more elastic and less ordered than the banal language that most people speak.

Though the mystical sense of language is necessarily flattened by a rendition into English, a less elastic tongue than Portuguese, the mystical sense of the world remains intact, and sensitive readers may even discover that some of the rivers in their world have three banks as well.