Brazilian Adventure - A Call to Paradise or to Hell

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 8
The famed Brazilian sociologist, Gilberto Freyre, asked me whether I based my story of generations of Cavalcantis on the secret unpublished journal of a Brazilian family. There were times during my five year odyssey on Brazil when I surely wished I possessed such a private diary. - There was no diary only the will to understand the Brazilian “thing.”
Professor Gilberto Freyre
Part of that understanding came from the journey I took over four months in 1981 traveling 20,000 kilometers through Brazil, almost entirely by bus. I visited the Casa Grandes; the big fazendas; the splendid beachfront apartments; the glass and concrete wonder of Brasília - the new El Dorado! I walked the sands of Porto Seguro; I rejoiced in the atmosphere of the Bahia; I stood in silence between sepulchral hills at Canudos. I climbed another hill, too, to gaze down on Vila Rica do Ouro Preto and imagine the handicapped sculptor Aleijadinho moving along Vila Rica's cobbled streets. I heard the muffled drum of tyranny presaging the last act in the drama of Tiradentes, martyr of Brazilian independence.
I wandered the sertão, the backlands, not just the wilderness beyond Bahia and in Amazonas but the sertão of the favelas of Recife and Rio de Janeiro. A literary bandeirante penetrating Brazil's past like those seventeenth century pathfinders, often feeling the thorny caatingas closing in on me but compelled to march forward like my hero, Amador Flores da Silva:
To Amador, to his father, to all who traveled with them, there would be no expression more evocative, more meaningful than sertão. 'Backlands;' 'wild country;' 'the unknown forest;' 'hill, valley, river hidden by the mist of Creation;' 'place of thorn and desert;''brutal land without end' - sertão was all these and more. It started not beyond the next rise or across the river ahead but deep within the soul, a call to paradise or to hell...

The Bandeirante - Debret
 I kept a two hundred page journal on my four-month expedition across the length and breadth of Brazil. The scrawl on some pages vividly brings to mind a motorista, a bus driver, hanging on to the wheel as we sped through the caatingas. I remember triumphant cries of Asfalt! as we careened off a dirt road onto the hard-top. I remember glancing at a rear-view mirror and seeing a driver nodding off with half-closed eyes. I remember a girl in the seat next to me on her way to join a nunnery saying a prayer...               
Some glimpses follow from a journey that lies at the heart of Brazil. I'd begun my research travels in Portugal where I stayed for three months in Sintra, the 'glorious Eden' of Lord Byron. I tried teaching myself Portuguese and learned enough to decipher the written word, more or less, but spoke the language poorly. I wrote to half a dozen people in Brazil in advance but essentially landed at Bahia, Salvador without a single contact... Journeying through Brazil in 1981, I traveled through the heart of a nation in which the flame of freedom was newly lit after years of military dictatorship, my journal colored by the voices and emotions of the era.

The Woman with One Orange in Brasília

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 7

More than the land, the Brazilian people themselves gave me the thousand and one insights I needed. Try to imagine a stranger coming to you and telling you he is going to write a novel about the entire history of Brazil. Five hundred years! A crackpot! Louco!
Bemused some were but with one solitary exception, a fiery young man of Manaus who flew into a rage and said an estrangeiro had no right to "steal Brazil's past,” save for this lone objector, I'd unstinting help and support from hundreds of people, some giving me days of their time, some only precious moments. An unnamed peasant woman standing next to me in a bus queue in Brasília and asking that I buy an orange for her sick child: I realized later that the orange was all the pair had for nourishment on a twenty-six hour bus trip.
I kept my daily journal during my trip and filled twenty notebooks. I pored over dozens of maps, paintings, photographs, absorbing and interpreting this mass of information as I went along. I was not bound by the same constraints as the historian, my book is a work of the imagination, but I was under an obligation to get the facts right. Foremost was an overriding desire to write a book that was accurate, balanced and avoided stereotypical images and over-simplifications that often mar the works of outsiders attempting popular fiction about Latin America.
Where my interpretations revise commonly-held views, I arrived at my conclusions only after the most critical thought.
My view of Brazilian slavery, for example, particularly the early centuries is harsher than what was usually portrayed.
I did not study Brazilian slavery in isolation but looked at the Portuguese record in Mozambique and Angola, particularly the degradation of the Congo; the more I thought about it, the less I believed that the harsh Portuguese slaver in Africa could miraculously be transformed into a paragon in Santa Cruz. Palmares was the quilombo that made "headlines,” but how many others were there? Tens of thousands of runaway slaves do not suggest a benign regime of bondage.
"Ganga Zumba" of Palmares
I asked myself time and again, and not only with slavery: through whose eyes was the past beheld? Almost never in a colonial situation does one find anything but the official story neatly penned for bureaucrats thousands of miles away.
I'm no “frock coat” devoted to the literary salon. I do not write staring above the heads of the mass of people. I like to get my hands dirty “to recreate history,” as one reviewer of Brasil said, “almost entirely at ground level.”
While generations of fictitious Cavalcantis and Silvas populate my landscape, I took great pains to bring to center stage a host of characters drawn from the masses. Affonso Ribeiro and his wild clan; Nhungaza of Palmares and his grandson, Black Peter; Antonio Paciência, the mulatto, slave, voluntário in the Paraguayan War, so-called "fanatic" at Canudos, above all, “Antonio Paciencia-Brasileiro!” A few of the many as dear and vital to me as the great men of the earth in Brazil, past and present.
In the end, one writer's search for the soul of Brazil -- an honest and sincere attempt to understand "the Brazilian thing."

A Gringo in the White Forest of Brazil

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 6
From Porto Seguro to Brasília, a tremendous leap in time and imagination that was to prove fateful. Though I did not know it then, I was being handed one of the keys to my vision of Brazil, the metaphor of Brasília and El Dorado. In his review of Brazil , the eminent Brazilian literary scholar, Professor Wilson Martins wrote:   
What we have in front of us is the Brazilian national epic in all its decisive episodes — the indigenous civilization and the El Dorado myth that they themselves created and supported, passing it on to the hallucinated imaginations of the conqueror; the discovery and domination of the North-East; the Bandeiras and geographical expansion; the gold rush and nationalist feeling present, not only in the struggle against the Dutch but also the Inconfidência Mineira; the Royal Family's arrival and the Independence; the Second Reign and the war with Paraguay; the Abolition and the Republic — everything converging like the segments of a rose window in that reborn and metamorphosed myth that is Brasília, symbol of the proclaimed territorial integrity and, not without reason, with the expeditions that expanded to the south and to the west on the pretext of capturing Indians and searching for the “Golden Fleece.
From Brasília, I traveled to Piauí and the sertão of Bahia, to Uauá and Canudos. Like so many other stops along my journey, I was there to brood over the past. I already had the broad picture but needed the innumerable small details to fill my canvas.
To have studied Euclides da Cunha's Rebellion in the Backlands and other sources was one thing, but go alone into the thorny caatingas ("White Forest",) walk for hours with the sun burning down on you, rest upon that stony earth, not a little fearful that you're totally lost — it takes little to imagine the hell that raged at Antônio Conselheiro's New Jerusalem.
Site if Canudos, as it appeared after diversion of Vasa-Barris river.
Locals believed it was intentionally flooded by government
My next halt was at Recife and Olinda where I spent three weeks, mostly under the guidance of Gilberto Freyre's Joaquim Nabuco Foundation. With their help I found my valley of Santo Tomás and my imaginary town of Rosário, the locales for my fictitious family of Cavalcantis.
From Recife I traveled to Belém and embarked upon the Amazon, five days of brooding along the river sea to Manaus and on to Porto Velho. What I had in mind in journeying the wilderness was not so much Nature's glories but the men who were first to venture there: the bandeirantes. Nowhere but in those lonely tracts of forest could I get a sense of the enormity of their undertakings, their indefatigable spirit and courage.
From Porto Velho and Cuiabá, I headed south to Rio, São Paulo and Minas Gerais. After so many weeks it was a shock, traveling out of the backlands to the great cities. I was as bewildered and lonely as the sertanejo who goes south, but even as I felt this I knew my intuition to start my journey in the north had been right. Had I plunged into Rio or São Paulo at the start, I could've been drowned but up north I was able to absorb the Brazilian "thing" in small doses, day by day.
This is a very real problem in developing a book like mine, for in so short a time no outsider can possibly hope to get more than a superficial look at a great city like Rio de Janeiro. Which is why when I got down to writing Brazil I placed my two families beyond the cities, the Cavalcantis on Engenho Santo Tomás near Rosário and the da Silvas of bandeirante ancestry at the fictional Itatinga on the Rio Tietê, their worlds a microcosm of the greater Brazil beyond.
Glimpses of the Casa Grande, Pernambuco, Brazil

Brazil on Twitter - Telling the Brazilian National Epic in 25,000 Tweets

Brazil is the first country to have its story told on Twitter in a saga spanning 500 years in 140-character episodes!

I draw on my acclaimed historical novel, Brazil, for this staggering task. My "Twitter Edition" is tweeted live for 10,000 indefatigable followers of the epic which opens with the Tupiniquin Indians in May 1491 and continues to the 21st century.

Brazil on Twitter couldn't be more different from my original manuscript. A South African-born author now living in Boston, I spent five years on the writing of my book about Brazil, a land that captivated me since childhood. My research included a 15,000-mile journey in Brazil, almost exclusively by bus to get a feel for the country.

My travels took me into the sertão, the arid backlands of the Northeast and to the Casas Grandes of coastal Pernambuco. I voyaged the Amazon from Belém to Manaus and rode by bus down to southernmost Rondônia. I followed the route of the bandeirantes, the Brazilian pathfinders, west of São Paulo and roamed the highlands of Minas Gerais.

The writing of Brazil took five years. Like my fictional hero, Amador Flóres da Silva, I knew periods of utter loneliness and fear; times when I felt the caatinga closing in on me. Always, I broke through the barrier. I never lost the will to understand the Brazilian ˜thing."

When I sat down to write my original manuscript, I did so the old-fashioned way by hand. It was a staggering 2,454 pages penned on unlined scribbling blocks and later typed up on a 1930s Remington Royal with a draft of 756,200 words! A typewriter bought on a yard sale for $1. The first edition of Brazil was pared down to 1,000 pages and published by Simon and Schuster.

The newest edition, with an afterword that brings the story to the 21st century, is on Amazon Kindle and also in Print (personally signed copies available.)

What I love about Twitter is the ability to reach a new worldwide audience “ one tweet at a time!" I post 20 to 40 tweets a session, numbered, and in self-contained excerpts.

In its long form, Brazil, has won accolades from reviewers and readers across the globe:

"Uys has accomplished what no Brazilian author from José de Alencar to Jorge Amado was able to do. He is the first outsider with the total honesty and sympathy to write our national epic in all its decisive episodes.“ -- Professor Wilson Martins, Jornal do Brasil.

"A Masterpiece! Brazil has the look and feel of an enchanted virgin forest, a totally new and original world for the reader-explorer to discover." -- L'Express, Paris

"Pulsing with vigor, this is a vast novel to tell the story of a vast country. Uys recreates history through the eyes and actions of an awesome cast of characters seen at 'ground level." - Publishers Weekly.

"Uys has interwoven five centuries of Brazilian history and generations of two fictional families into a massive, richly detailed novel, Michenerian in sweep and scope, informative and intriguing.  Uys has a sense of pace and an eye for detail that rarely fail him. "-- Washington Post

In the wide world of Twitter, @BrazilANovel offers a totally new and original way to discover Brazil, a great nation and its people, one tweet at a time.

Tiny Puffs of Cloud That Fell to the End of the Earth

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 5
Before leaving Portugal for Brazil, I prepared a list of objectives sent in advance to potential contacts in Brazil's cultural and educational ministries, historians and others whose names had been suggested by sources I'd met in Portugal:
Notes on Research Project: Brazil 
My novel is historical and a major part of my work can be
accomplished through a study of published sources.
No matter how assiduously this is undertaken, such bookwork
cannot offer on location observation with its inestimable
value in bringing comprehension and adding reality to your
perspective. The following notes, more or less in line
with my envisaged chapter structure, indicate the kind of
material and experience I am seeking.
Creative people are not supposed to be as formal as this,
but with so vast a project in mind  I have to adopt some
kind of organized strategy for the research stage
or I'll never put it all together.
1. Rain forest
I want to describe, in detail, a single acre —
"God's Little Acre," in a way — before mankind's
arrival. I need to speak with experts at a forest research
station (outside Belém?), who can explain, in simplest
terms, the symbiosis of the forest, its creation and
the miraculous web of life that ensures its survival.
I need a geologist to outline the creation of the Amazon
basin and the forces that shaped the sub-continent
as we know it today. A zoologist to tell me about
the animal life of the virgin forest. And a sociologist
who can expound on "man and the forest," the forest's
effect on man over the centuries, both indigenous
and immigrant. (Charles Wagley, An Introduction to Brazil,
has some pertinent remarks on this theme.)
Besides these research objectives, I offered a glimpse of my story lines, enough to grasp
my plans for the book and more specific research needs:
Notes on Research Project: Brazil
“While I am aware that the role of the rain forest
in Brazilian history should not be over-emphasized,
I want to open the book with a succinct evocation
of the lifecycle of an acre of virgin rain forest;
its creation and existence before the advent of mankind.
“The first dwellers in the forest, the Indians, are seen
in the period 1492-1500, eight years leading up to the
arrival of Cabral's fleet. Emphasis is placed on
the Tupi-Guarani branch and, in particular, a Tupinamba
and a Tupiniquin group. While a novelistic technique
carries the story forward, I am equally concerned
with a sympathetic account of their lifestyle and its
value-role in the formation of Brazilian society.
“After showing Cabral's landfall, my focus turns to
the Portuguese trading empire in the East, stressing
Goa and Ormuz, in the period 1506 — 1516 to give
the reader a concept of the men and women
who first settled Brazil and their heritage.
These gleanings from my outline and in-depth reading and research were intended to convince those whose help I sought that I was involved in a serious project of which I already had more than a working grasp. A breathtaking and formidable task but which, after my two years with James Michener on The Covenant, I had every confidence of accomplishing.
I prepared a draft itinerary that would allow me to touch base with all the important locations in the novel, an itinerary clearly open to revision as priorities demanded.


Draft itinerary for visit to Brazil: July to October 1981

July 2                         Arrive Recife from Lisbon
July 3   - 7                  Recife/Olinda
July 8   - 12                Recife/Olinda area - "sugar plantation"
July 13  - 14               To Canudos - Pernambuco 'backlands' en route
July 15  - 16               Canudos
July 17  - 18               Salqueiro - Belém (surface)
July 19  - 21               Belém (Amazon forest research station etc.)
July 22                       Belém - Manaus (air)
July 23  - 26              Manaus
July 27  - 29              Manaus - Porto Velho (Madeira River?)
July 20  - Aug 8        Porto Velho - Madeira-Mamore railroad/
                                  Aripuana to Alta Floresta/ environs of Rio
                                  Roosevelt etc.
Aug 9                        Porto Velho - Brasilia (air)
Aug 10   - Aug 15      Brasília
Aug 16   - Aug 22      Brasília - Salvador via Sáo Francisco area
Aug 23   - Aug 29      Salvador
Aug 30                       To Porto Seguro
Aug 31   - Sept l         Porto Seguro - Ouro Preto
Sept 2   - 3                  Ouro Preto
Sept 4   - 10                Rio de Janeiro (lst visit)
Sept 11  - 15               São Paulo
Sept 16  - 24               São Paulo ( on coffee fazenda)
Sept 21                       São Paulo to Asuncion (air)
Sept 22  - 24              Asuncion, Paraguay
Sept 25  - Oct 3         Asuncion - Humaíta to Missiones area etc.
Oct 3    - Oct 17         Rio de Janeiro for consultations with local
Oct 18                        Return to New York.
I was to begin my trip at Salvador, the Mother City, the best possible start to a journey in search of the “real Brazil,” as people in the south refer to Bahia. From Salvador I went to Porto Seguro and Cabrália, walking along the beaches and broad bluffs that are the setting for the opening of my book along the same beach where I saw the young Tupiniquin, Aruanã, at the water's edge on a day in 1500.
Porto Seguro,  Brazil
      Tiny puffs of cloud had fallen to the end of the earth. Four... five...six were bunched together just above the horizon, and others were coming to join them. Otherwise the sky was perfectly clear, its blue expanse streaked with the blazing color of the lowering sun.
     He made a hesitant progress toward the water, squinting into the distance at the strange clouds. But even as he did so and perplexed as he was, he began to see that his first impression had been wrong. Very quickly now the swiftest clouds lifted above the water and he saw a darker line. There was a flash of understanding: Here were great canoes coming from the end of the earth.
     Aruanã watched as they came closer. The sun was gone behind the trees, and he found it difficult to discern the craft, but he stood rooted a while longer before he realized that he must hasten to the village and tell what he had seen. This made him gaze at the horizon again, to be absolutely certain, for it was a fantastic discovery for a man who had gone to seek no more than shells for First Child. They were there, darkening images now, these canoes that had come from the end of the earth.

Landing place of Pedro Alváres Cabral, Brazil, 1500

A Novelist and the Shock of History

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 4
My library forays in New York over three months provided the background for my initial plotting and book proposal. With the outline complete and broad themes of the novel well in mind, it was essential to have firsthand experience of Portugal and Brazil. I couldn't go back five hundred years, but I could make a sincere and honest attempt to know the land and its people.
I was writing a novel not a history but was committed to offering as authentic and historically accurate account as possible. In April 1981, I headed for Lisbon and three months later began my journey in Brazil.
I based myself outside Lisbon at Sintra, living in a quinta on a hillside below Moorish battlements that overlooked Sintra Palace. I would use this setting for the family seat of the first Cavalcantis to go to Brazil:
Sintra Palace

Through his marriage to Inez Gonçalves, Cavalcanti's father had come to possess lands on those serene vales before the Serra de Sintra. Here between jagged rocks of antiquity crowned with fallen battlement of Moor and the distant azure expanse of the Atlantic, here was past and future, and whether Nicolau climbed through the thick woods to the lee of the old Infidel redoubt or stood on the windy headland at Cabo da Roça, he felt an intimacy with both. - (from Brazil)
Errol Lincoln Uys at Serra de Sintra

 I divided my time between the Gulbenkian Foundation, British Institute and Portuguese historic and geographic libraries and visits to sites like Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower, Mafra, and traveling to Coimbra, Belmont and Evora, all of which have a place in my novel. Besides 16th century Portugal, I was also interested in the mid-18th century and events surrounding the Lisbon Earthquake of November 1755, one of my Cavalcantis studying law in Portugal at the time.
Ten seconds later, there was a devastating shock. The houses opposite Paulo began to sway; the floor beneath him vibrated so violently that he struggled to keep his balance. Chimneys crumbled, loose tiles fell to the ground, crockery in Dona Clara's house shattered. Screams and the pitiful cries of animals rose. But Paulo's perception of these noises was dulled by a thundering in the earth. Terremoto! The word crashed through Paulo's senses. “Earthquake!”
Paulo was mesmerized by the houses opposite, rocking on their foundations, walls cracking and splitting, upper stories leaning toward the street, chunks of masonry falling. Terror numbed him. He stood frozen at the window, expecting death.

Three houses suddenly burst open and collapsed, burying the family of four and the servant girls. The old man did not cease his struggle to open his front door, even as the convulsions rocked the street; he, too, was entombed by an avalanche of masonry. Paulo looked beyond the opening opposite him: The city was rising and falling in waves as if upon a storm-tossed sea; landslides swept down the hillsides hurling houses toward the lower ground; distant steeples and towers whipped about wildly; clouds of dirt and dust hung in the air. The thunder of the earth, the sound of breaking timbers, the rain of roof tiles — the inconceivable noises came together in one deafening roar of destruction. - (from Brazil)
Lisbon Earthquake 1755

Imagining Brazil

BRAZIL - The Making of a Novel - Part 3
As I let Brazil seep into my imagination, my first step was to compile a detailed chronology. Alongside this, I mapped out a genealogical timeline for my major families, initially the Cardosas and the da Silvas. I later changed the Cardosas to the "Cavalcantis."
As I worked on these timelines, I began to isolate the markers for my characters, the great events where I knew they would have to be present, the sidelines of history where there might be a role for them, as yet undefined and potentially as surprising to me.
The original Chronology extends from 8,000 B.C. with north-coast Andes sites of hunter-gatherers to 1981, the year I started my research. So, for example, from 1616 to 1681, the years covering the lifespan of my character, Amador Flôres da Silva, the bandeirante or pathfinder:

Once the Chronology was complete, I had enough material to flesh out my original plotting ideas in a detailed outline, proposing a saga spanning five centuries and involving multi-generations of two families, the Cavalcantis and the da Silvas whose stories depict the major historical elements in Brazilian society.
This ninety-page document comprised an Overview of the novel, Family Trees and the Outline itself.
My ideas would constantly evolve during a year of research and travel and throughout the actual writing. There would be many variations in the plot for I could not know where the characters I created would lead me but the broad plan held firm.

Why Choose Brazil as the Subject of an Epic Novel?

BRAZIL -- The Making of a Novel - Part 2
Why choose Brazil as my subject? And why on such an immense scale? I've always believed one should make no small dreams for the results will be commensurate. During our time together, James Michener and I spoke about places that would lend themselves to treatment in epic novels. He mentioned Alaska and the Caribbean, both of which would become locales for Michener books. I suggested Brazil.
The more I began to think of Brazil, the more reasons I found for wanting to write about the country. My very ignorance prompted question after question, and when I began to look for answers, I quickly sensed a tremendous story that hadn't been told to the North American public. As an outsider to both nations, I had a singular vantage point unbridled with innate prejudices and chauvinism.
Among other compelling reasons for choosing Brazil, not the least was my having just spent two years delving exhaustively into the history of my birthplace. Broadly-speaking, the relations between the races in South Africa and Brazil couldn't have been more different in the 1980s: how, when, why, I wanted to know, did the two nations take such radically different paths? This wasn't something to include in the book I envisaged about Brazil but it gave me a base-line to work from in considering the dynamics of Brazilian society. In Africa, I also traveled widely in Mozambique and Angola, gaining insights into the Portuguese, their history and way of life, a valuable introduction to the colonizers of Brazil.
On January 5, 1981, the first working day of the year, I woke up at the usual time when I would leave for the Digest's offices in Chappaqua. This day there was no Digest, only the vast unknown in Brazil and with my future.
During the next three months I haunted libraries and second-hand bookstores in New York. I wasn't selective but read anything I came across related to Portugal and Brazil, anything but fiction. In plotting so vast a story one has to take care not to lock into the imagination of others and inadvertently borrowing from their works, a pitfall Michener drew my attention to when we were working on The Covenant.
I read hundreds of books and articles on my library forays, not only on my initial three-month plunge
into Brazil but as I went along. A small sampling of my reading list includes some of the classic works on Brazil and Portugal, both contemporary and historic:
The Mansions and the Shanties, Gilberto Freyre  
The Masters and the Slaves, Gilberto Freyre
Order and Progress, Gilberto Freyre  
New World in the Tropics, Gilberto Freyre
Bandeirantes and Pioneers, Vianna Moog
History of Portugal, Antonio H. de Oliveira Marques
Portuguese Seaborne Empire, Charles R. Boxer
Portugal and Brazil, Harold Livermore and W.J. Entwhistle
Colonial Background of Modern Brazil, Caio Prado, Jr.
The Brazilians, José Honorio Rodrigues
Latin America, Preston E. James
History of Brazil, Andrew Grant, 1809
History of Brazil, E. Bradford Burns
From Barter to Slavery, Portuguese and Indians, 1500-1800, A. Marchant
Captains of Brazil, Elaine Sanceau
True History of His Captivity, Hans Staden
Discovery of the Amazon, according to account of Fr. Gaspar de Carvajal
The Histories of Brazil, Pero de Magalhaes, trs. John B. Stetson
Hakluyt, the Principal Navigations, Volume XI
A Treatise of Brazil, Padre Fernão de Cardim in Purchas, his Pilgrims XVI
Dutch in Brazil, 1624-1654, Charles R. Boxer
Golden Age of Brazil, 1695-1750 , Charles R. Boxer
Salvador de Sa and the Struggle for Brazil and Angola, Charles R. Boxer
Brazil, Portrait of Half a Continent, T. Lynn Smith
Apostle of Brazil: Padre João Anchieta, Helen G. Dominian
Jews in Colonial Brazil, Arnold Wiznitzer
The Negro in Brazil, Arthur Ramos trs. Richard Pattee
Neither Slave nor Free, David W. Cohen and Jack P. Greene
African Religions of Brazil, Roger Bastide
Brazilian Culture, Fernando de Azevedo, trs. William R. Crawford
Evolution of Brazil, Manoel de Oliveira Lima
Rebellion in the Backlands, Euclides da Cunha
One of my early sources was the three volume History of Brazil written by the English romantic poet, Robert Southey, between 1810 and 1819, considered the first comprehensive history of colonial Brazil. I pored over Southey's thousand-plus pages in awe of his achievement, the closest he ever came to Brazil was among the volumes in the library of his uncle, Reverend Herbert Hill, chaplain to the English Factory at Lisbon. I would have the opportunity to visit Brazil and carried Southey with in my thoughts, an inspiration to another outsider making a literary journey of epic proportions. Southey showed that it could be done.


Daydreaming about Anacondas, Headhunters and El Dorado

When I began work on my novel I knew as little about Brazil as the next foreigner. I'd once stopped over at Rio de Janeiro for three days on a flight to Africa, an instant course in cliches of Carnival, samba, beach and jungle. I'd another impression that harked back to my South African childhood, when the country was still tied to England.
Every month there arrived from London an adventure magazine for boys, its pages filled with the glories of Empire and conquests of its heroes. Among them, explorer Percy Fawcett who was most often depicted in a tiny canoe paddling past the gaping jaws of an anaconda. Colonel Fawcett went in search of a fabulous Lost City in Brazil and vanished forever in Mato Grosso. The intrepid fortune hunter lived on in the imagination of boys Percy Fawcett1ike myself who scoffed at the idea that an Englishman had been killed by headhunters and pictured our champion sitting on a golden throne in E1 Dorado.
Living in a day when we still saw the world divided into two parts — those who belonged to the British Commonwealth and those who didn't — I naturally considered Fawcett to be the discoverer of the Brazilian interior. Before his time, I believed, no one dared venture there except the denizens of the impenetrable forest.
I remember drawing a huge map of Brazil, days of painstaking work with pen and India ink, with every known river and a myriad tributaries. I marked my hero's route to "Point X" where he disappeared. The map won me a coveted star from my geography teacher, Miss Kane, and a vow to "find" Fawcett. Little did I know that many years later I would visit some of the very places explored by Fawcett that remained as deserted as when he first set eyes on them half a century earlier.
As happens with boyhood fantasies, somewhere along the way I left Fawcett behind and got on with my schooling. Then came the real world and a brief and wretched experience as a law clerk. My father knew I wanted to be a journalist but warned that before I wasted my life as a writer, I should get a safe "billet," a favorite word of his. He suggested a career in accountancy or better still, a job with the Johannesburg city council, where I would be guaranteed a pension. (A chilling prospect for a seventeen-year-old!) I tried law but after a couple of years of hounding debtors and licking stamps, I abandoned this course.
Then came another round of fantasies with a disastrous attempt to go into business for myself. I founded the Lincoln Swift Organization, an odd mixture of cane furniture factory, pottery distributor, and missing persons bureau. It survived three months. At last, in an act of desperation, I literally threw myself at the feet of the manager of the Johannesburg Star and asked for a job. I got it.

Between daydreams about Fawcett, I'd been writing stories from the age of ten. I was seventeen when I penned my first novel, a three-hundred page saga of teenage angst in a small town in South Africa. Unpublished, I included it with my application to the Star and to my everlasting gratitude, the editors decided to take a chance on me. Three weeks after joining the paper, my name was in print for the first time beneath an article on the editorial page: Happiness is an Unprejudiced Mind.
My career as reporter, features writer and editor spanned seventeenPost Newspapers, Johannesburg, Front Page   years on three continents. From the Star I went to Post, a newspaper serving the black and mixed-race communities of South Africa. Then to England and the South-East London Mercury, a London weekly; in London I joined Reader's Digest returning to South Africa, where I became editor-in-chief. In 1977, I came to the magazine's headquarters at Pleasantville in the United States. My transfer couldn't have been more propitious.
In 1978 because of my background and the Digest's long-standing relationship with James A. Michener, I was assigned to work with the writer on his South African novel, The Covenant. My two years with Michener convinced me that were I ever to be an author I would have to make a total commitment to writing, not pecking away at manuscripts in the dark of night but out in the open. At the end of 1980, I resigned from the Digest to begin work on Brazil.
BRAZIL - The Making of A Novel - Part 1