Nick’s postcard: Machado De Assis and Rio de Janeiro


View of south Rio from the Tijuca Massif, September 2014


Why I went…

When I moved to Brazil, I acculturated by reading Brazilian literature. I read a lot of Machado de Assis. He lived from 1839 to 1908, and is generally thought to be the best writer Brazil’s ever produced. They don’t do blue plaques or birthplace museums here, but Machado never left Rio, and you can get maps and apps showing the locations that figured in his works and his life. Exploring Rio was a natural counterpart to exploring his fiction. It was also a very nice holiday.

What I got out of the experience…

Machado’s work is a pleasure and a puzzle. Is he a realist, a modernist, an absurdist? Is he describing Brazilian life, or making his own worlds? Is his work apolitical? How could it be? Wandering round Rio, you begin to grasp how Machado could be and do all of these things and none of them at once. Rio is a ridiculous, fantastical city, strung out between mountains and beaches and seas. But it’s also a serious, seething place; the grim realities of urban life intrude on and interact with the tropicalia. Literature made and set here couldn’t reflect or describe the contradictions of the place without being, itself, contradictory. Machado’s work loses its mystery, and gains dimensions, as you become familiar with his city.
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