The Making of a Novel
I searched for the story of Brazil for five years, a literary pathfinder wandering in quest of the untold story of the Brazilians and their remarkable history.
I explore the exhaustive processes that go into the making of a monumental novel with a first draft of 750,000 words written in the old-fashioned way, by hand. I reveal the early genesis of my ideas for plot lines and characters, the detailed planning of my outline, my 20,000 km research trip (by bus,) and the indefatigable path to my final manuscript.
I searched for the story of Brazil for five years, a literary pathfinder wandering in quest of the untold story of the Brazilians and their epic history.
these pages, I share my mighty journey of twenty thousand kilometers
across the length and breadth of Brazil in 1981. I traveled
through the heart of a nation in which the flame of freedom
was newly lit after years of military dictatorship, the journal
I kept colored by the voices and emotions of the era.
"I should like to know if Uys had an unpublished jornal
intime of a Brazilian family?"
When I began work on my novel I knew as little about Brazil as the next foreigner. I'd once stopped over at Rio de Janeiro for three days on a flight to Africa, an instant course in cliches of Carnival, samba, beach and jungle. I'd another impression that harked back to my South African childhood, when the country was still tied to England.
Every month there arrived from London an adventure magazine for boys, its pages filled with the glories of Empire and conquests of its heroes. Among them, explorer Percy Fawcett who was most often depicted in a tiny canoe paddling past the gaping jaws of an anaconda.
Colonel Fawcett went in search of a fabulous Lost City in Brazil and vanished
in Mato Grosso. The intrepid fortune hunter lived on in the imagination of boys like myself who scoffed at the idea that an Englishman had been killed by head-hunters and pictured our champion sitting on a golden throne in El Dorado.
My library forays in New York over three months in 1981 provided the background for my initial plotting and book proposal. With the outline complete and broad themes of the novel well in mind, it was essential to have firsthand experience of Portugal and Brazil. I couldn't go back five hundred years, but I could make a sincere and honest attempt to know the land and its people.
I was writing a novel not a history but was committed to offering as authentic and historically accurate account as possible. In April 1981, I headed for Lisbon and three months later began my journey in Brazil.
I based myself outside Lisbon at Sintra, living in a quinta on a hillside below Moorish battlements that overlooked Sintra Palace. I would use this setting for the family seat of the first Cavalcantis to go to Brazil .
Traveling 20,000 kilometers through Brazil, almost entirely by bus, I visited the Casa Grandes; the big fazendas; the splendid beachfront apartments; the glass and concrete wonder of Brasília - the new El Dorado!
walked the sands of Porto Seguro; I rejoiced in the atmosphere
of Bahia; I stood in silence between sepulchral hills at Canudos.
I climbed another hill, too, to gaze down on Vila Rica do Ouro
Preto and imagine the sculptor Aleijadinho moving along Vila
Rica's cobbled streets. I heard the muffled drum of tyranny
presaging the last act in the drama of Tiradentes, martyr of
To Amador, to his father, to all who traveled with them, there would be no expression more evocative, more meaningful than sertão... It started not beyond the next rise or across the river ahead but deep within the soul, a call to paradise or to hell...
I kept a two hundred page journal on my four-month expedition across the length and breadth of Brazil. The scrawl on some pages vividly brings to mind a motorista, a bus driver, hanging on to the wheel as we sped through the caatingas. I remember triumphant cries of Asfalt! as we careened off a dirt road onto the hard-top. I remember glancing at a rear-view mirror and seeing a driver nodding off with half-closed eyes. The girl in the seat next to me on her way to join a nunnery began to pray.
a year on the move in Portugal and Brazil, I returned to the United
States to begin writing. In November 1981,I made a dismal entry
in the back of my Brazil travel journal:
a third and final entry:
Slave Market at Rio de Janeiro
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