Graciliano Ramos (1892–1953) was born in the northeast of Brazil, in the state of Alagoas. In 1929, while he was serving as mayor of a small town, Palmeira dos Indios, his dryly humorous annual reports caught the attention of an official with connections to the publishing establishment. His first novel, Caetés, was consequently published in 1933, followed by four other novels, of which Vidas Secas is the best-known. His other works include two books of short stories, four memoirs, three books of children’s literature, and translations into Portuguese of Booker T. Washington and Albert Camus. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1935 for being a Communist and participating in the military-backed uprising against the government of Getúlio Vargas, and recounted this experience in a prison memoir, Memórias de Cárcere. In 1945, he became a member of the Brazilian Communist Party and visited Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Padma Viswanathan is a Canadian novelist and writer of short fiction, plays, and essays. Her translation of Graciliano Ramos’s 1934 novel, S. Bernardo, from which the excerpt in Becoming Brazil is taken, is forthcoming from New York Review Books, as part of the Classics series.