Quincas Borba (Google eBook)
Along with The Posthumous Memoirs of Br's Cubas and Dom Casmurro, Quincas Borba is one of Machado de Assis' major works and indeed one of the major works of nineteenth-century fiction. With his uncannily postmodern sensibility, his delicious wit, and his keen insight into the political and social complexities of the Brazilian Empire, Machado opens a fascinating world to English-speaking readers. When the mad philosopher Quincas Borba dies, he leaves to his friend Rubiao the entirety of his wealth and property, with a single stipulation: Rubiao must take care of Quincas Borba's dog, who is also named Quincas Borba, and who may indeed have assumed the soul of the dead philosopher. Flush with his newfound wealth, Rubiao heads for Rio de Janeiro and plunges headlong into a world where fantasy and reality become increasingly difficult to keep separate. We encounter roses that speak to each other, discussing the character and actions of their owner, Sofia; even the stars above occasionally comment, sarcastically, on the humans below. When Rubiao falls in love with the wife of his best friend, we see adultery as yet another betrayal of reality. Rubiao's own hold on reality becomes ever more tenuous as he makes elaborate plans for his marriage, even though he has no bride, and fantasizes that he has become Napoleon III. The very nature of reality, the novel seems to be saying, is an agreed-upon fiction told by an unreliable narrator. Brilliantly translated by Gregory Rabassa, Quincas Borba is a masterful satire not only on life in Imperial Brazil but the human condition itself.