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Heralded as the most important Brazilian novel of the century so far, this bestseller's unique blend of magic and social realism won it three literary awards and global acclaim
'I heard our grandmother asking what we were doing.'"Say something!" she demanded, threatening to tear out our tongues. Little did she know that one of us was holding her tongue in her hand.'
Deep in Brazil's neglected Bahia hinterland, two sisters find an ancient knife beneath their grandmother's bed and, momentarily mystified by its power, decide to taste its metal. The shuddering violence that follows marks their lives and binds them together forever.
Heralded as a new masterpiece, this fascinating and gripping story about the lives of subsistence farmers in Brazil's poorest region, three generations after the abolition of slavery, is at once fantastic and realist, covering themes of family, spirituality, slavery and its aftermath, and political struggle.
Translated by Johnny Lorenz.
About the Author
Itamar Vieira Junior was born in Salvador, Bahia, in 1979. He holds a doctorate in Ethnic and African Studies. Before Crooked Plow, he published a collection of short stories entitled The Executioner’s Prayer, which was nominated for Brazil’s biggest literary award, the Jabuti. Crooked Plow won the prestigious 2018 LeYa Award in Portugal.
"[Brazil's] deep-rooted racial and economic injustices are laid bare in one of the most celebrated Brazilian debut novels of recent times."
—Financial Times Best Books of the Year 2023
"A leading voice among the Black authors who have jolted Brazil’s literary establishment in recent years with imaginative and searing works that have found commercial success and critical acclaim"
—New York Times
"One of the great novels of the year..."
—João Céu e Silva, Diário de Notícias
"A tour de force of injustice, tragedy, affection and human dignity reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables or John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Vieira Júnior’s book garnered top literary prizes in Portugal and Brazil. Its author has drawn comparisons to Jorge Amado, the giant of Brazilian letters who introduced the magic and plight of Afro-Brazilians to the world."
"Beautiful, powerful and moving, he presents us with great literature with a simplicity that torments"
"Vieira Junior conveys the girls' childhood confusion and wonder in hypnotic prose, and he brings the close-knit Água Negra to life. This heralds the arrival of a welcome voice."
"Among the laudable feats Vieira Junior accomplishes in this novel is the way it gradually moves from a highly specific story to one with implications for a region's entire working class. A stirring, lived-in novel of struggles both personal and societal."
—starred review, Kirkus Reviews
"Crooked Plow is a powerful novel set among a Black Brazilian farming community living on the edge of existence, whose people are resilient against historical forces and the individuals who oppress them…Each of the novel's three parts has a different narrator, including Bibiana, Belonísia, and an encantada. These respective narrators lead to rich interiority; the characterizations are deep, and the novel is layered in its rendering of events. The sometimes nonchronological narration goes back in time to reveal people's secrets, building suspense as it moves toward its unsettling, fitting conclusion."
"This powerful debut novel charts the plight of Brazil's poorest farmers scrabbling for subsistence on the land their enslaved ancestors worked. Initially centered on two sisters whose lives are changed forever by a catastrophic accident, the book explores themes of generational poverty and political strife through the lens of family bonds and the eyes of a once-revered Afro-Brazilian divinity. A bestseller in Brazil and lauded with literary accolades, the engrossing story gives visibility to many who have traditionally been marginalized."
—Becky Meloan, The Washington Post
"Vivid ... a saga that tells not just the story of two siblings, but the enduring dysfunction of a nation."
—Oliver Basciano, ArtReview
"A compelling chronicle ... Junior provides an immensely readable account of how men and women of no property have to deal with domestic, economic and state violence and of how story and language restore the dignity such people are so often denied"
—Michael Cronin, Irish Times
"Magic, social realism, and deep character studies grounded in a complex community are the hallmarks of this brilliant novel from a rising voice in Brazil."
—Molly Odintz, CrimeReads
"A potential heir to the great Clarice Lispector, Vieira Junior, a Bahian native, sets his first story to appear in English among poor Afro-Brazilian tenant farmers...a contemporary Brazilian masterpiece."
—The Center for Fiction
"Five years after it was first published, 'the most important Brazilian novel of the century so far' finally makes its English-language debut. Believe the hype."
—Patrick Rapa, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Itamar Vieira Junior offers a salt-of-the-earth paean...a compelling vision of history's downtrodden and neglected."
—Anderson Tepper, The New York Times Book Review
"Crooked Plow, with artistic clarity and beauty, presents racism and the spectre of slavery as the source of strife in the lives of contemporary Quilombolas ... A provocation to those who believe that simple perseverance will save the day."
—Angel Lambo, Frieze
"[Crooked Plow] is rooted ... in the voices and languages of the sertão, in the names of the animals and plants, in the oral storytelling traditions of ancient communities, in the richness of the spirit world ... An impressive first novel by an important literary voice."
—Angel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times
"Crooked Plow brings to vivid light the harsh realities of tenant farmers exploited by land owners who enrich themselves on the backs of the workers and yet still take much of what little the farmers save for themselves. The novel resonates with the "sounds of animals, of rustling leaves, of flowing water… the sound[s] of the world" - an illuminating journey in a dark time."
—K. M. Sandrick, The Historical Novel Society
"Vieira brings both sisters to electric life, but Belonísia's narration is especially immediate and moving. It would be a privilege to share a tongue with her."
—Lily Meyer, NPR
"Crooked Plow is a powerful and piercing book that follows the lives of two sisters, their family, and a disembodied spirit in the hinterlands of Bahia, Brazil. The sisters, who use the same voice after an accident takes the ability to speak away from one of them, grow and follow their own life paths confronting poverty, racial injustice, and the threat of being removed from the land they are profoundly attached to."
—David Martinez, Full Stop
"Subtle and profound ... Crooked Plow balances a portrait of inner lives with a thoughtful treatment of grand sociohistorical forces"
—Franklin Nelson, Times Literary Supplement
"Crooked Plow is a tour-de-force that deeply humanizes those who bear the unspeakable burdens of colonialism in the Americas, making their gestures appear through writing that pays close attention to hidden languages of care."
—Ana Laura Malmaceda, Words Without Borders
"Vieira Junior emphasizes that legacy and history are not always a curse. Rather, their persistence is a form of resistance to the dehumanization wrought upon the family by slavery's shadow...The book's success in Brazil exemplifies a trend in the country's literary landscape toward novels told from the perspective of the historically oppressed. In the past five years, Vieira Junior has been an integral member of a group of Brazilian writers who, in depicting racism and slavery through the viewpoint of racial minorities and enslaved peoples, remind us of Brazil's painful colonial history while returning agency to those who suffered under its one-sided narration."
—Jimin Kang, The Nation
"Translated into more than ten languages, Crooked Plow has received wide acclaim, both for its poignant story of social struggles and for the empathetic depiction of the quilombolas' lives and traditions. Also remarkable is its vivid imagery and the colorful vocabulary typical of Brazil's Northeast. These are aptly maintained in Johnny Lorenz's excellent translation, which employs various Portuguese words and expressions present in the original, thus avoiding unwieldy footnotes or glossaries while offering English-language readers a taste for the distinct language of the Brazilian sertão."
—Cristina Pinto-Bailey, World Literature Today