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Joaquim Machado de Assis (1839 - 1908)
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The great 19th century Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis was descended from freed African slaves. Born in relative obscurity in Rio de Janeiro, his parents died when he was young. He made his way in life as a typesetter and later a civil servant, continuing in that career even after acheiving fame through his writings.
He is considered a realist, and a strong current of pessimism is present in his novels, especially the mature ones written during and after the 1880's. His close observation of human behaviour and his humorous sense of irony have won him the admiration of critics (especially Harold Bloom), while his detailed knowledge of the mores and customs of 19th century Brazil make him essential reading for anyone interested in Latin American culture and society.
In preparing this brief bio I have referred to the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machado_de_Assis and to the Introduction in the Helen Caldwell translation of "Dom Casmurro". The interested reader should also refer to "Genius" by Harold Bloom.