07 November 2017

Book Review: Quincas Borba by Machado de Assis

I picked up this book as it was recommended to me a while ago; in 2015 I was looking for novels that portrayed Brazil, and a Brazilian reader suggested this book, as well as a couple of others. It feeds my wanderlust, reading books set in locales I have not been before. And this book is no different, providing me an interesting perspective on 19-century Brazil, a country I haven't visited yet.

Quincas Borba is a novel published in 1891 by Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. Frankly speaking, I haven't heard of this author until I got the recommendation. And sure enough, a year or so ago, I looked at all the writers I have read, and most of them come from the English-speaking world. This is a pity, and so I have started the endeavor of finding novels from all over the world. There are plenty of writers and novels written in languages other than English that are definitely worth reading.

Anyway, back to the book. This book was written in the 19-century, yet there are parts of it that feels postmodern. I suppose it was quite advanced for its time. I like the fact that there were passages of the book that referred to other earlier passages. And there were also times in which the narrator seemed to be engaging the reader in a conversation. These narrative devices are definitely more common in postmodern literature, which would come way later, and I think Machado de Assis was already foreshadowing that.

I don't like the plot too much. The story has multiple main characters, but it mostly centers on Rubiao, a man who was friends with an ailing philosopher, Quincas Borba. Quincas Borba dies, leaving Rubiao an estate (he was named as the heir in a will), with one condition, that he should take care of the philosopher's dog, also named Quincas Borba, in a way as if the dog were a person. Anyway, Rubiao does that, and he ascends Brazilian 19-century high society with the money he gets.

I don't really care for 19-century society. Brazil is not England, but it definitely has similarities with the Victorian Era, where social life is the epoch of one's day, and people just ride carriages to go around the neighborhood to gossip. I don't care for the dating and mating rituals that were prominent during that period, and I just don't see the attraction of living in such a generation, where dropping a handkerchief means a lot more than simple gravity. In any case, this book is a period piece, but since I am not a big fan of the period, I wasn't as enthusiastic as I was compared to other books I have read. Maybe I just found it hard to relate to.

That being said, this book reflected the social customs of that day, and I am glad that we have somehow moved on from that. I am glad that women have something more to look forward to nowadays than simply getting married. In Quincas Borba, there were women of society whose sole goal was to capture the attention of a man who has money so that they can get married. Somehow it reminds me of Jane Austen's novels, where you have female characters whose sole goal in life was to attract Mister Bingley.

Anyway, I think this sums up my impression of the book. If you want a book that provides a glimpse of how Brazilian society was like back in the 19-century, then this definitely is one good book to read. But given that I have more modern preferences, I cannot say I would enjoy reading such a book if I remove the historical context it is embedded in. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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