You could read many books about Brazil, but you won’t have scratched the surface of its turbulent soul.
Brazil, a country of continental proportions. A nation of passionate and contradictory history filled with unique landscapes, music, and food.
I could name many other aspects and reasons why you should visit my country, but instead, I will let these books convey my message.
For these reasons, any book set in Brazil, being fictional or not, demands the reader to interpret the country as a full character.
Brazil is just too complex not to do it.
Unfortunately, many books from Brazilian authors I grew up reading are not available in English.
Still, this article will give you enough ideas to load up your nightstand. That’s because this list of books set in/about Brazil is full of historical intrigue, love affairs, loss, murder, dreams, and complexity.
So, dig in, start reading, and lose yourself in Brazil.
Brazil is my way to see the world. Being born in that country means you don’t have a wall separating the physical reality from the magical reality.Paulo Coelho
Digging into the 25 best books about Brazil
I’m an unapologetic book nerd who loves nothing more than helping people find a new book to devour. So, you can trust me to suggest some interesting reads.
This is a pretty epic reading list of books about Brazil. It includes selections for novels set in Brazil, books about the Empire of Brazil, historical novels, memoirs, journalistic reflections about the many aspects of this involving land, and more.
So, if you have a particular genre that you prefer, skip down to that section. However, I encourage you to scroll through the full list, because you might find some surprising finds in unexpected genres.
Memoirs Taking Place in Brazil
Family Gap Year by Sheila Maloney
Part memoir, part self-help, part travel guide, and all heart, Family Gap Year is a lovely book about a family from Chicago that dropped their overscheduled lives and moved to Brazil for a year.
I had the pleasure to read this book after Sheila reached out to me for advance praise, and I honestly recommend it. It’s a fun and quick book to read (I finished it in two days only), and the inspiring story is perfect for families who are planning their next adventure!
Tristes Tropiques by Claude Levi-Strauss
Levi-Strauss’s personal story follows his travel discoveries and anthropological work through Brazil, but he also refers to other countries though.
Although mostly a travelogue, this memoir is infused with philosophical reflections and ideas linking many academic disciplines, such as history, literature, and sociology.
Historical nonfiction books about Brazil
1808: The Flight of the Emperor by Laurentino Gomes
Laurentino Gomes talks, in a not-so-didactic way, about the period when the Portuguese royal family fled to Rio de Janeiro due to pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Revolution.
Thriving on creating a narrative for each character, the author gives correct dimensions to their role in the history of Brazil.
This book about Brazil is the result of 10 years of research, but as always, take it with a grain of salt and research further to make your own conclusions.
Brazil: A Biography by Lilian Schwarcz and Heloisa Starling
With a solid academic background, Lilia and Heloísa make sure to bring dense information in an easy read supported by deeply researched facts.
The authors explain the history of Brazil in a book that is easy to read, even in all its complexity. It’s an excellent read to learn about the country.
Journalistic nonfiction books about Brazil
Brazil On The Rise by Larry Rohter
Larry Rohter, American journalist, discusses the history, economy, people, traditions, land, natural resources, culture, and politics of Brazil in this brilliant book.
In short, the author talks about how Brazil has not only great soccer, carnival, and beautiful women, but also a diverse economy and cutting-edge technology in different fields.
It is an excellent book about Brazil, especially useful for those who want to learn about its history and culture, but as always, take it with a grain of salt.
The book features the author’s views, which I personally disagree with at some points. To each their own, I guess.
A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions by Peter Robb
Any traveler visiting South America should read Robb’s seductive synthesis of one of his greatest fascinations–Brazil.
The author combines his own memories of when he lived in Brazil with history and culture to delve into the past and present of this South American country.
Beyond that, Robb seeks to understand the dangers and passions that coexist in Brazil, and goes on a journey throughout the country to encounter centuries of history, good food, and music.
It’s not only a dense and heavy read but also sentimental. Robb’s work is a cross between travelogue, investigative journalism, and that classic Brazilian telenovela.
Still, this book about Brazil is an excellent read to anyone who wants to learn more about the country’s history and culture.
Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil by David Goldblatt
David Goldblatt shares his vision of the history of Brazil through the optics of soccer.
He discusses the oppressive poverty, corrupt institutions, and widespread violence, always making allusion to the national sport, soccer.
Soccer is part of Brazilian culture. Its brilliance, its magic, its style, and the fabulous myths built around the land make it an interesting comparison.
It is the history of Brazil told through its national sport.
Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink by Juliana Barbassa
This is a deeply reported and beautifully written biography of the seductive and chaotic city of Rio de Janeiro.
Juliana Barbassa, a prizewinning journalist and Brazilian native, lived around the world for many years, but Rio was always her home.
After 21 years living abroad, she returned to find the city that once was ravaged by inflation, drug wars, and corrupt leaders now is on the edge of a significant change.
Such changes come as Rio de Janeiro is under the spotlight of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
Dramatic novels set in Brazil
Captains of Sand by Jorge Amado
Published in 1937, shortly after the New State was established in Brazil, this book had its first edition seized and copies were burned in a public square in Salvador by authorities of the dictatorship.
In 1940, it marked a new era in Brazilian literature with a new edition in Portuguese, and from then on, translated versions followed shortly after.
Amado’s story features the life of abandoned children on the streets of Salvador, which the author describes in pages full of beauty, drama, and lyricism.
Symphony in White by Adriana Lisboa
Lisboa’s novel is an excellent drama that plays the past and present in non-chronological order. It features two traumatized sisters, a broken family, and many secrets. The story plays in the rural area of Brazil.
Furthermore, the symphony that gives the book its name, and that leads the complex characters is the invisible music that often terrifies most people: the deafening silence.
In 2011, Adriana Lisboa received the José Saramago Award for this book.
Brazil by John Updike
In a magical realism plot, Updike uses brutal and lush, hot and humid language to tell the story of two young lovers, a black boy of the Rio slums and a pampered upper-class white girl.
They are madly in love with each other, and they are willing to endure privation, violence, and captivity just to be together.
The book is well written and turns out to be a haunting tale with unexpected turns and almost supreme sacrifice for a love that utterly consumes two souls.
Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
Dom Casmurro is perhaps the most famous Brazilian book of all time.
The book features Dom Casmurro, the nickname of Bento Santiago, who, old and alone, unveils his early memories.
The story begins with Bento following his mother’s wishes to become a priest. Turns out, destiny had other plans for him, and Bento leaves the seminary after falling in love.
He then studies law and marries his great love. Still, jealousy and mistrust deepen in their lives, and Bento suspects that he is not the biological father of his son, but his great friend Escobar is.
I Didn’t Talk by Beatriz Bracher
Bracher’s novel features a college teacher who moves to São Carlos, the countryside of São Paulo State.
Awakened by the resounding memory of when he was tortured during the dictatorship of 1964, the main character experiences a series of reflections about his past.
The tension between past and present gains significant dimension through the arrangement of his roles, memories, and thoughts.
Mystery novels set in Brazil
Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
An American translator arrives in Rio de Janeiro to investigate the disappearance of her favorite writer, whose enigmatic personality resembles the features of Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian writer.
This novel set in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia has something of a film noir, with suspicious encounters, threats, swindlers, knives, and guns.
Still, the author shines a lot of poetry, in addition to an exceptional intuition about affective relationships, desire, and writing.
Historical fiction books about Brazil
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Instead of using his memories to compose a story with a strong comic streak, the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa decided to retell the dramatic Canudos War in Brazil.
After reading the Rebellion in the Backlands by Euclides da Cunha, Llosa was very impressed with this bloody conflict in Brazil and decided to re-write that story with his own words.
After years of research and trips to the backlands of Bahia, Llosa finished writing what he calls one of his masterpieces, which mixes journalistic pieces with literature.
The Slum by Aluísio Azevedo
Aluísio Azevedo was a brilliant Brazilian writer in the 19th-20th century. One of his first books, O Mulato, marked the beginning of the naturalism movement in Brazil.
Another of his great works, The Slum, is also a novel of the naturalism movement. The book features the daily lives of a slum’s residents and their daily struggles for survival.
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado
Written in 1958, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon gave dimension to the virtues and weaknesses of the Brazilian women of that time, as well as to the patriarchal system imposed on them.
The romance between the half Afro-Brazilian Gabriela and the Arab Nacib played in the 1920s in Ilhéus is one of the great classics of its kind in the Brazilian literature.
Novels set in Brazil
The Three Marias by Rachel de Queiroz
Queiroz’s story consists of “saudades” chronicles (English: the feeling when missing someone/something), which almost read as if they were memories written in a secret diary.
The story features three memorable main characters who are friends from their childhood. As they grow up, each one follows their own path but always supporting each other.
It’s a beautiful book!
The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy
Granddaughter of Jews from Turkey and the daughter of Communists in Brazil, the narrator receives from her grandfather the key that would open the door to a home in Smyrna, where her grandparents fled during the Inquisition.
And in this search for her family’s roots, she learns that she needs to go back in the past to move forward.
Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector
Complete Stories is a work of Benjamin Moser who put together all Clarice’s stories in a single book.
From the very first pieces she wrote in her teens to the very last lines, Complete Stories is a unique book and a must-have for any of Clarice’s fans.
With My Dog Eyes by Hilda Hilst
This fiction set in Brazil is a vertiginous, sometimes disquieting little book.
Slim and singular, Hilst’s novella is the story of a professor of mathematics whose tenuous grasp on reality slowly begins to disintegrate after a suggested leave of absence.
As his sanity slips ever further away, Hilst’s prose becomes progressively disjointed using styles that work with significant effect.
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
Lispector’s last novel is fueled by the dramatic reality of Macabea, a young woman from a small town who is devoid of beauty and financial resources.
Macabéa moves to the big Rio de Janeiro City, where she finds herself having a rough time in a socioeconomic universe that is far away from her own.
In a bewildering and brilliant way, Lispector unmasks the brutal social inequality in Brazil. It’s an excellent book!
Macunaíma by Mario de Andrade
Macunaíma, an anti-hero, is a Brazilian Indigenous character who represents the Brazilian people in a social satire fiction.
Considered a modern Indianism, the book is written from a comic perspective, criticizing Romanticism and discussing Indigenous Brazilian myths, legends, and sayings.
It also mentions some aspects of the country’s folklore hitherto little known.
The End by Fernanda Torres
Torres’s story features five friends from Rio, who recall the remarkable moments of their lives: regrets, marriages, parties, inhibitions, addictions, and separations.
They are very different characters, and each has a distinct personality. Still, they share not only the fact of being on the edge of life but also of having some limitations.
Instead of creating a novel about five friends enjoying some moments together, Torres focuses on each individual story and the weight of time in the life of an older man.
My German Brother by Chico Buarque
Chico Buarque de Hollanda is a Brazilian singer-songwriter, writer, and poet. I’m a big fan of his music!
Anyway, at 22, Chico Buarque found out he had a German brother. At 70, he published “My German Brother,” which mixes fiction and reality, and leaves the reader with the question, what’s fiction and what’s not?
Get inspired to visit Brazil
I’m saying this because many people read books about places they are going to visit on a future trip–I’m guilty of that.
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