Menino de Engenho, 1932 (Plantation Boy, 1966)
Doidinho, 1933 (English translation, 1966)
Bangüê, 1934 (English translation, 1966)
O moleque Ricardo, 1935
Pureza, 1937 (English translation, 1948)
Pedra bonita, 1938
Fogo morto, 1943
Plantation Boy, 1966 (includes Plantation Boy, Doidinho, and Bangüê)
Northeast Brazil, like the Deep South of the United States, at one time depended on slaves to work its plantations. Born at Pilar, Paraíba, on June 3, 1901, José Lins do Rego (leenz doh reh-GEW) Cavalcanti was brought up in this region at a time when the plantation system was declining before the disrupting forces of modern society. When his mother died shortly after his birth, his father left him in the care of aunts and an old grandfather who owned a string of sugar plantations extending from the ocean to the sertão, a region plagued by alternating drought and floods.
Educated for the legal profession in Paraíba and Pernambuco, Lins do Rego became a professor of law, the prosecuting attorney in the small town of Minas Gerais in 1925, and a bank inspector. In 1932 he undertook to portray in his “sugar cane cycle” the economic and social conflicts of his native region; these five novels were built around Carlos de Mello, who embodied autobiographical details drawn from Lins do Rego’s memory. The series follows Carlos as he grows up, goes to school, circulates among his friends of color in the city, and witnesses the decline of the plantation aristocracy. Plantation Boy, Doidinho, and Bangüê are the best known of the sugar cane novels. Lins do Rego was already well known when he moved to Rio de Janeiro to enter the newspaper world. He married Filomena Massa, and they had three daughters.
Lins do Rego was an uneven writer. He stands out among the increasing number of excellent Brazilian novelists for his character drawing and his simple, direct language, but most critics find his writing flawed by a lack of dialogue. Part of the problem may have been the speed with which he wrote, producing a novel a year. His defenders see in his preference for narrative soliloquy the influence of professional oral storytellers he heard as a boy.
Among his later works, Pedra bonita (wondrous or beautiful rock), with its picture of fanaticism in the sertão, is founded on actual happenings. Água-mãe (mother-water) is a ghost story of eerie moods that won the Felipe d’Oliveira award as the best novel of the year in 1941. Fogo morto (dead fires), a novel with excellent dialogue and characters (such as the Don Quixote-like Captain Vitorino Carneiro da Cunha, quite different from the morbid Carlos de Mello), returns to the sugar plantations to follow the rise and fall of the epileptic Lula de Hollanda, aristocratic master of Santa-Fe. Another departure from Lins do Rego’s earlier style is Eurídice, a psychological novel about sex, in which he experimented with new themes.
In 1956, elected to the Academia Brasileira de Letras, Lins do Rego was supposed to eulogize his predecessor in his acceptance speech, but instead he shocked the members by declaring that the man never wrote anything remotely resembling literature. The same statement could not be made about José Lins do Rego.