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.


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