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Backlands: The Canudos Campaign (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 26 Aug 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (26 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143106074
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143106074
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.8 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 75,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

EUCLIDES DA CUNHA, known for his vivd portrayal of Brazilian civil war, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1866. A former army lieutenant, civil engineer and journalist, Cunha witnessed and reported firsthand the brutalities committed by the Brazilian army. The experience would eventually inspire his most celebrated novel, Rebellion in the Backlands, in 1902.

ELIZABETH LOWE is Director of the Center for Translation Studies at the University for Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has translated the work of Clarice Lispector, Rubem Fonseca, Nelida Pinon, Darcy Ribeiro and Machado de Assis.

ILAN STAVANS is Professor in Latin American and Latin Culture at Amherst College. His books include The Essential Ilan Stavans, The Hispanic Condition, On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language and Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion. In addition, he has introduced several Penguin Classics editions.


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Valente on 29 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
The war of Canudos, Brazil's deadliest civil war, was in itself a remarkable, almost surreal event.
In the final years of the nineteenth century, in the depths of the Bahia "sertão", the barren inland portion of the Brazilian Northeast, where the state was represented only by the tax collector and local people trying to eke out a living were pretty much left to their own devices, a village (Canudos) rebelled against the newborn Brazilian Republic and withstood several military expeditions sent to subdue it.
It was led by a man known as António "the Counsellor" who, after several business failures and being left by his wife, finally found his calling, as a religious leader and had wandered the Brazilian wilderness for decades. It was motivated by a fierce, superstitious, millenarian and irrational brand of religion, denounced by the official Church, but also by the will to establish a fairer economic and social system. It was the heir to centuries of tension between powerful and powerless, rich and poor, landowner and penniless farmer, master and slave.
Canudos eventually succumbed to the might of a military force more than four thousand soldiers strong, led by several generals and equipped with heavy artillery and the best weapons available. It was the fourth one that was sent against it. Even then, it took many months for the village to be taken.
The villagers were backwoodsmen, including some known brigands and criminals "converted" by the "Counsellor's" preaching, recently freed former slaves (slavery had been abolished less than ten years earlier), poor subsistence farmers and the like. They were armed with ancient weaponry and aided only by their knowledge of the land and their ability to use its scarce resources.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Changed Horses in mid-stream 12 Sept. 2010
By Ward Ward - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was in the middle of Samuel Putnam's translation of "Os Sertoes" when this new translation became available.

I don't read Portuguese so I cannot evaluate either translation in terms of its fidelity to the original.

I'm now rereading the book using both translations in tandem. Putnam's rendition is beautiful to read but occasionally unclear ( e.g., there are places where I have to read a sentence more than once to figure out which noun in the first part of the sentence a gerund located towards its close is meant to modify) which is where Lowe's translation comes in handy. Lowe's sentences tend to be syntactically "a straight shot", whereas Putnam's are more intricate, forcing the reader to pause between sentences , conjuring in the reader's imagination (well,in mine at least!) a narrator who takes his time relating his tale, punctuating his utterances with a sip of wine, a drag from a cigarro, or simply a moment of reflection, briefly letting the sounds of the night flood in. And it may just be, I sometimes feel, that the time it takes to process those long involved sentences in the Putnam provides the proper pace for the scenes in the book to unfold in the reader's mind. The shorter sentences in the Lowe translation occasionally result in what is probably an unintentional anaphora (since English obliges one to repeat the pronoun - He... He.. He.. or They ...They..They) creating an effect somewhat like the same melody being played faster and faster, or someone talking til he runs out of breath. One doesn't feel the urge to linger over Lowe's prose the way one does with Putnam's, but Lowe is very useful for rapid reading without losing the thread of the action. Also, and this above all else, I simply could- not- read the first sixty-odd pages of the Putnam translation, and I am glad to have the Lowe to make it accessible. I don't visualize Putnam's versions of da Cunha's descriptions of the terrain nearly as well as I do Lowe's, both in this part of the book and throughout.

If Putnam "has a tendency to slightly alter, maybe even embellish" the original, as the author of the introduction to the Lowe book claims, Lowe's version sometimes reads like a paraphrase for the benefit of readers who don't want to be sent to the dictionary or encyclopedia every other page. She will omit unfamiliar allusions and unusual words (including da Cunha's own original coinages, as well as specialized terms peculiar to one of the many disciplines that he was conversant with) where retaining these would have added little or nothing to the narrative. If I were to assign this book to a group of undergraduates , I would go with the Lowe translation hands down. For someone who wants to experience "the full monty" of da Cunha's style and its occasional eccentricities, the Putnam translation may be relevant.

This review should be taken as less of a plug for either Putnam or Lowe than it is for reading both translations together rather than relying exclusively on one, just as someone would read the KJV for the gorgeous prose but keep a more recent translation handy for the sake of clarity. Also there is so much going on on a single page of Os sertoes that that I often seem to notice something in one translation that I had glossed over in the other. One also occasionally runs across intriguing discrepencies - a sentence in the Putnam reads " The deposed Braganca dynasty had finally found a Monk [ as in George Monk or Monck whose military aid eased Charles II's path to the English throne and the restoration of the Stuart dynasty] in Joao Abbade" whereas the Lowe has the common noun "monk" - "The defunct Braganza royal line had found its monk in Joao Abbade". I don't have access to the original so can't tell who is right - could it be that the conventions governing capitalization in Portuguese support both readings? I wouldn't know.

Finally, not including the translation and the introduction, there seems to be something curiously half-hearted on the part of Penguin Classics in putting out this book - instead of the inadequate maps in the Putnam, none whatsoever here to accompany a text that is crying out for them; also, the superficial blurb on the back with its unrepresentative quote (which for some bizarre reason is taken from Putnam's translation rather than Lowe's).
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Da Cunha is hard to translate 19 Sept. 2012
By Susanna B Hecht - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I've just completed a book that translates da Cunha's writing on the Amazon (The Scramble for the Amazon and the "Lost Paradise" of Euclides da Cunha. He is really tricky to translate because he's a) pretty brilliant;---think about translating Shakespeare into Portuguese; b) uses alot of fairly anachronistic Portuguese constructions and c) deploys a highly regional lexicon. He's also responding to intellectual and political debates of his time, and so that's why there are alot of annotated versions da Cunha"s backlands in Portuguese. He's hard even for Brazilians, but once you get into him, he is one of the most amazing writers with a very complex, and very passionate sensibility. He also is probably the best environmental writer bar none.
I have the habit of working with Putnam's translation, and I think it gives you more the "feel" of da Cunha's original text, but I think the Lowe text is also very good, though I resisted at first. Its more accessible, and does get around some of the more convoluted phrasing ( the first reviewer of the book on this Amazon site did a great job of capturing the differences). The Putnam translation is 1944---almost 60 years ago, and even american English was more complex than now.
This Lowe translation is likely to be easier to find, but in either translation, he deserves to be read: he is the Homer of Brazil, and "Backlands" is his Iliad.

To respond to one of the other reviewers who was distressed about the racism in this volume: Da Cunha's Amazon writing talks alot oabout the backlander Odyssey into the rubber forests of Amazonia. While they had gone down in defeat in Bahia, the story that he describes in Backlands, they triumph in Amazonia, at another war at the end of the world. In Amazonia, da Cunha completely rejected the racial models he embraced earlier, arguing that the mixed blood backlanders were actually the "Bedrock" of the Brazilian People,---he calls them his bronzed titans, and they had made the Amazon, through their toil and determination a truly Brazilian place.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"Classic Brazilian Literature" 8 Sept. 2012
By Tony N - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Backlands: The Canudos Campaign is one of the best military history books ever written. The detail in which Euclides da Cunha wrote is such that the reader can actually visualize the scenes depicted as if he were there. The first part of the book deals with the history and background of the people who inhabit the sertao region of northeast Brazil, as well as climate, vegetation and natural history of the area. Da Cunha was an officer in the Brazilian military who took part in the last month of the campaign to overtake Canudos from the religious fanatics, led by Antonio Conselheiro, which occurred from November 1896- October 1897. This book is a "must read" for anyone who is fascinated by Brazil and the Brazilian people, especially those called "backlanders."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Pillars of Wisdom... 30 July 2012
By T.A.L. Dozer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Pillars of Wisdom...

Euclides da Cunha's book "Rebellion in the Backlands" was first published in 1902 in Brazil. Since then at least 15 editions have been printed. The book is a detailed military account of the war between the poverty stricken peasants, who adopted guerrilla tactics, and the Brazilian government, which maintained conventional military formations at the siege of Canudos in 1896-1897. This is by far one of the best accounts of basic guerrilla and psychological warfare tactics. As well, this book is often compared to Lawrence's (of Arabia fame) book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" which accounts his lessons from his guerrilla campaign.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
For anyone studying Brazilian or Latin Am history 6 April 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you want to know about Brazil, you must read this book. Just about any Brazilian you meet will have either read this book or at least know a fairly detailed history about the Canudos rebellion. The first-person racism of Brazil's great historian Euclides da Cunha was very difficult for me to take in, but it gives a great perspective of a cultural norm at the turn of the century (1900). To know Brazil, you must read this one at some point.
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