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The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by…

The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (1880)

by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
950None9,108 (4.36)38
  1. 10
    Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo (fspyck, StevenTX)
    fspyck: Ik vond er eenzelfde terughoudenheid in, Machado de Assis is misschien wat grimmiger, en speelt nog meer met vorm en intertekstualiteit, Svevo is ietwat hilarischer
  2. 00
    Quincas Borba by Machado de Assis (hrjunior)
  3. 00
    The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (StevenTX)
  4. 01
    Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant by Manuel Antônio de Almeida (Anonymous user)

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English (14)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
What a romp! Who new a posthumous memoir could be so wonderful? Our narrator, Bras Cubas, the dead one, finally makes his mark in the world by inventing the posthumous memoir. According to Susan Sontag, in the introduction, this occurs in counterpoint to "Tristram Shandy" speaking to his audience before birth. (I need to read that novel) Finally, Cubas can heave his eternal sigh of relief by achieving a worthy epitaph. His life was pretty typical, full of love, envy, profound delusions, a touch of intrigue, a variety of failures, petty maneuvering, and embarrassing moments. So what the heck, is it so much to ask for an eternal sigh of relief now and then? I think not! ( )
  hemlokgang | Feb 23, 2014 |
What a curious book this is! It seems a melding of Victorian novels where the author feels free to address the reader at some length and of post-modern writing with all its consciousness of the artifice of writing. Written in 1880, it is all the more remarkable for the modern voice it has, modern in the style and the thoughts.

What I think Machado does particularly well is to combine his criticism of weak-willed, selfish man so well with a liking for him, all this while writing as Braz Cubas, someone who keeps justifying his poor behaviour. Then, of course, there’s further originality in the structure with the short chapters and the book not told entirely in chronological order though the disadvantage of the structure of this book for me is that there is no build-up and I found the last part comparatively uninvolving with its focus on ‘humanitism’. Still, some parts really appealed to me such as the well-known chapter consisting just of punctuation marks. After all, the sort of inanities people falling in love say to each other don’t need to be recorded and it makes the exclamation marks gradually building up carry with levity all the tone and ardour of their conversation.

I’ve actually had this book sitting on my shelves for perhaps twelve months so I can’t remember where I read about it. Initially, wrongly of course, I had been put off by the ugly cover of 24 skulls with one of them laughing, no doubt mirroring Rushie’s appraisal of the book: ‘The kind of humour that makes skulls laugh’ but while Rushdie was witty with this allusion to the dead narrator, the drabness of the cover really was uninviting.

Braz Cubas’ remorse at having given a muleteer a fraction of the amount he was going to give him for saving his life (because the muleteer was still delighted by the amount he was given) demonstrates the way Machado lays bare human meanness while at the same time creating some humour at the expense of the narrator. His warped reasoning that the muleteer was just ‘an instrument of Providence’ is amusingly condemnatory. As the narrator says, ‘I prefer jolly chapters’. The same warped reasoning is employed a number of times in order to show how self-justifying we are when catering for ourselves, Cubas’ abuse of the virtuous Dona Placida being another case in point.

Machado’s attitude towards slavery reveals a man of his time, though. The references to them are usually demeaning, not I think because Machado wants us to remain critical of his narrator but because it’s a non-issue for him (though I’ve since read that he was in favour of Abolition). So, Cubas worries a little during his affair with Virgilia about ‘the household slaves, who found in gossip about us a sort of revenge for their servile condition’. In fact, Machado has a freed slave mercilessly beating a slave he’d acquired as if to show their lack of humanity. ( )
  evening | Dec 26, 2013 |
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas is a playful, metafictional novel that immediately brings to mind Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy. It is "Posthumous" for the simple reason that to write his whole life's story, a man must wait until he is dead so the story is complete. He begins by telling us of his death in his native Brazil, in 1869, at the age of 64--a childless bachelor, so we know ahead of time the fruitless outcome of the love affairs which will dominate his memoirs.

Going back to his beginnings, Brás Cubas describes his ancestry--how he manages to be rich enough never to have to work in his life--and his spoiled childhood. Brás is barely grown before he is squandering a fortune on trinkets for a favorite prostitute. His indulgent father, finally losing patience with him, sends Brás to Europe to finish his education. Returning after having barely eked out a degree, he refuses a career in politics and the marriage his father has arranged to the beautiful Virgília. But then, as soon as Virgília has been wed to someone else, Brás falls madly in love with her.

Brás Cubas, in short, is a no-account dandy whose life is noteworthy only for the trouble he causes those who persistently care for him. His life history would be a dreary novel, except that the novel isn't so much about Brás as about the story itself. The narrator regularly steps back from the narrative to address the reader as audience, accomplice, or adversary. At one point he laments:

"I'm beginning to regret this book. Not that it bores me, I have nothing to do and, really, putting together a few meager chapters for that other world is always a task that distracts me from eternity a little. But the book is tedious, it has the smell of the grave about it; it has a certain cadaveric contraction about it, a serious fault, insignificant to boot because the main defect of the book is you, reader. You're in a hurry to grow old and the book moves slowly. You love direct and continuous narration, a regular and fluid style, and this book and my style are like drunkards, they stagger left and right, they walk and stop, mumble, yell, cackle, shake their fists at the sky, stumble and fall..."

He describes his book very well. There are chapters with typographical flourishes such as dialogue consisting of nothing but punctuation marks, a chapter with a title and no text, and chapters that are simply brief soliloquies. Sometimes Brás pats himself on the back, saying things like "By God, that's a good way to end a chapter!" At another point he suddenly interrupts himself to go back and clarify something from several chapters earlier, closing with "Good Lord! Do I have to explain everything?"

The result is a delightful little satirical novel with all its moving parts fully exposed and vividly painted so reader and author can have a good laugh at one another. ( )
2 vote StevenTX | Oct 29, 2013 |
If you stripped away the ahead-of-its-time narrative tics, the clever self-reflexive games, the subversive style, what you're left with is the heart of this book: the voice.

I was less impressed with the stylistic trickery (and enough has been said about that, just read the other Goodreads reviews) than with the voice: often boastful, he still allows you to see all his faults and weaknesses. And though you see all his faults and weaknesses, he still comes across as extremely likeable. Though he slyly mocks himself and those around him, he never comes across as having any kind of social or political agenda. The voice is believable despite being a multitude of things: delusional, prideful, petty, insightful, pitiful, philosophical, mocking, cynical, naive, weary, serious etc.

The story is basically one of impotence and mediocrity. Bras Cubas makes headway halfheartedly in all arenas of life, never fully achieving anything in the conventional sense that society deems as such. Though he was always at the brink of each of these accomplishments, he never acheives them: marriage, children, illustrious career. And we're better off for it, as readers, because we see that Bras Cubas really doesn't care for these societal expectations, much like this book doesn't care for fulfilling the narrative expectations of its readers.

The book mirrors this mindframe: it goes in a million different directions, imparting various observations along the way without any kind of central thrust. I don't mean this in a bad way; in fact, its aimlessness is one of the things I liked most about it. There's an openness to it where it doesn't feel too controlled, too one-minded, and this is refreshing.

On the negative side, it never feels completely satisfying either. There are moments of deep insight, and moments of humor, but a kind of constant withdrawal where it never reaches the heights of either. The wording was sometimes clunky too, but this could have been due to the translation. Also, the narrative devices he employs should be nothing new or shocking to a reader in the year 2011, though at the time I can see how it was. But since I'm reading it now and not in 1880, I felt a little annoyed that I was constantly expected to react to certain sections as if I were a maiden aunt (to borrow a phrasing from Manny) scandalized by its unconventional sexy form. To its credit, the cleverness is totally in line with the character's voice, so it didn't feel tacked-on, just slightly tacky in this day and age.

PS - the preface by Enylton de Sa Rego is complete rubbish. Skip it. I haven't finished reading the Afterword by Gilberto Pinheiro Passos, but so far it's kinda rubbish too. ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
The reader, like his fellows, doubtless prefers action to reflection, and doubtless he is wholly in the right. So we shall get to it. However, I must advise that this book is written leisurely, with the leisureliness of a man no longer troubled by the flight of time; that is a work supinely philosophical, but of a philosophy wanting in uniformity, now austere, now playful, a thing that neither edifies nor destroys, neither inflames nor chills, and that is at once more of a pastime and less than a preachment.

The more I read, the more I come to understand that the trait I admire most in authors is not so much a matter of elegant prose, complex plots, characters that leap off the pages and make their home in your heads when the last page has been turned and the story has ended. Those are all very entertaining in their own right, but clever is as clever does, and rarely provokes long-lasting admiration in my mind. What I prefer is a simple matter of trust, belief, faith even if that is the direction your theological tendencies swing. Faith of the author in themselves, but more importantly, enough faith in their audience to lead them without expounding, carry them along in the pages without tending to their every need and pandering to their every expectation.

Some would disagree with me on that point. In fact, many would, all those folks who dislike books for "trying too hard" and "being too smart". Those who feel that the author did not adhere to the formula enough to guarantee formulaic enjoyment of the audience, and decry them for leading them out of their literary comfort zones and making them confront a strange beast of ink and paper. Oftentimes they look at this weird creature and see something of themselves inside it. Sometimes this bothers them. More frequently than you'd expect, this scares them.

So what does this have to do with this book here, you ask? Good question. I haven't quite figured it out myself, actually. At least, not at this exact point in time, as I type down these words in the middle of a coffee shop, the book itself on my right and a list of its quotes on the left. That's why you're here. You're joining me on this journey, the goal of which is to find the purpose of conducting in the first place. Circular, no? But true.

What this book achieves is an astounding thing in this current age, but even moreso when one takes into account the year of publication. 1880, two years after The Brothers Karamazov and four years before The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you asked me which is more closely related to this particular specimen, I'd have to say TBK. But only in terms of the wealth of philosophical content, the exacting and measured analysis of the human condition, the grappling with questions of success, reputation, and mortality. TBK tells you a story in a sonorous tone, preaches from the pulpit of its well-deserved yet greatly intimidating authorial presence. This book hops up on the stand, poses with hand on hip, says a few words in a serious tone, then quickly hops down and invites you to the back table to ruminate and reminisce over a few choice bottles of the finest vintages. There is a man behind the curtain, and he doesn't bother to pretend that he doesn't know that you know that he knows it's there. Instead, he welcomes you into his humble abode, and asks if you wish to hear a story. And trust me, reader, you really should say yes.

Why? Why do we want to hear this story from this author, one who breaks off from all conventions in serving us what cannot at all be deemed a novel? One hundred and sixty bits and pieces of one, perhaps, but how could that possibly flow as strongly and as soothingly as a single entity, one that admittedly breaks off into chapters but ensures that each chapter is a well-rounded stepping stone to the next? Instead, we have this book, whose sections sometimes contain no more than a paragraph, a single sentence, even at some point a series of dots (or ellipses? Impossible to tell). How can a story possibly be told in such an erratic and incomprehensible fashion?

Through conscientious and deliberate interaction of the author with his audience, who predicts their interests and invites them to go beyond it. Through knowledgeable understatement, conveying through simple events powerful ideas on life, love, and the death that the author supposedly composes in, without once feeling the need to paint an obvious map for the reader to jerk themselves around on. Through a measured and insightful eye on the actions of the main character, creating a man that dwells on deep thoughts without realization and dismisses them for frivolities and pleasure, yet is incontrovertibly shaped by the powerful undertow. A man who is both infuriatingly obtuse and startlingly sensitive, capable of great cruelty and great understanding. A man who lived without effort, and died before making an effort. A man, now dead, writing of a life that he felt was lived without achieving any measure of great suffering, or amount of great joy.

Perhaps he never did acquire those things he longed for so long in life. He did, however, find one thing: a small amount of truth in his life, one that reconciled his mortality with his visions of success, and contented him with living in constant and clear-sighted observation of himself and of others. The character may have never realized the beauty of his thoughts, the wonderful philosophies he drew from a privileged, yet empty living. I believe, however, that the author trusted us enough to discover those for ourselves. However much he played with us during the course of the pages, flattering our sensibilities while baffling our literary conventions, he trusted us to go through his pages and discover something on our own, for our own. That something, however small, is worth everything. ( )
1 vote Korrick | Apr 26, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Sá Rego, EnyltonPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frisch, ShariDrawingssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grossman, William L.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Passos, Gilberto PinheiroAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rabassa, GregoryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Willemsen, AugustTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Que Stendhal confessasse haver escrito um de seus livros para cem leitores, coisa é que admira e consterna. O que não admira, nem provavelmente consternará é se este outro livro não tiver os cem leitores de Stendhal, nem cinquenta, nem vinte e, quando muito, dez. Dez? Talvez cinco."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0195101707, Paperback)

Fans of Latin American literature will be thrilled by Oxford University Press's new translations of works by 19th-century Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. His novels are both heartbreaking and comic; his limning of a colonial Brazil in flux is both perceptive and remarkably modern. The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas is written as an autobiography, a chronicle of the erotic misadventures of its narrator, Brás Cubas--who happens to be dead. In pursuit of love and progeny, Cubas rejects the women who want him and aspires to the ones who reject him. In the end, he dies unloved and without heirs, yet he somehow manages to turn this bitter pill into a victory of sorts. What makes Memoirs stand up 100 years after the book was written is Machado's biting humor, brilliant prose, and profound understanding of all the vagaries of human behavior.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:14 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

"New translation of Machado's famous novel is for the most part faithful and readable. However, work has occasional odd errors and omissions, and fails to give sufficient attention to Machado's rhythm and syntax. Given Rabassa's vast experience as a translator, it is hard not to suspect that carelessness and haste explain the mistakes and lapses. Also poorly edited and inadequately proofread"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.… (more)

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