In the unlikely event that readers may not yet have learned of plans for a May 2013 group read of João Guimarães Rosa's Grande Sertão: Veredas, regarded by many as Brazil’s greatest 20th century contribution to the novel, allow me to add another announcement to those already made by my co-hosts for this momentous event: Richard of Caravana de los Recuerdos, Rise of In Lieu of a Field Guide, and Miguel of St. Orberose. We will each be tackling a different version of the book, with Miguel in the center ring, cracking his whip at the original Portuguese; Rise lassoing the long out-of-print English translation, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands; and Richard taming it in Spanish. I will attempt a French translation, Diadorim, with a copy of the original Portuguese serving as a safety net in case a miraculous Oliver Sacks style psychiatric disorder suddenly allows me to be able to read Portuguese. Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat has just announced that she’ll be joining in with a German translation, so this promises to be a show involving – given the apparently notorious difficulty of translating the book - daring feats of international cross-pollination.
Grande Sertão: Veredas (Portuguese for "Great Backlands: Tracks"; English translation: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands) is a novel published in 1956 by the Brazilian writer João Guimarães Rosa. The original title refers to the veredas - small paths of wetlands usually located at higher altitudes characterized by the presence of grasses and buritizais, groups of the buriti palm tree (Mauritia flexuosa), that criss-cross the Sertão region in northern Minas Gerais, southeast Brazil - as a labyrinthine net where an outsider can easily get lost, and where there is no single way to a certain place, since all paths interconnect in such a way that any road can lead anywhere. The English title refers to a later episode in the book involving an attempt to make a deal with the devil. Most of the book's spirit is however lost in translation, as the Portuguese original is written in a register that is both archaic and colloquial, making it a very difficult book to translate. The combination of its size, linguistic oddness and polemic themes caused a shock when it was published, but now it is considered one of the most important novels of South American literature. In a 2002 poll of 100 noted writers conducted by Norwegian Book Clubs, the book was named among the top 100 books of all time.