Teaching English with Art: make your online lessons stand out


Ideal for online lessons!!

If you are having any of the following problems, we can help you…

a. Are your students often bored during the English class? b. Don’t they know what to say when you set up speaking activities? c. Do you spend the weekend correcting writing assignments that don’t seem to help them improve? d. Is it hard to personalize productive skills and link the English lesson to the other subjects in the school curriculum? e. The students know nothing about Art and high culture in general. 

Click on each of the pictures below to get your copy from the KINDLE STORE:

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Teaching English with Art: Norman Rockwell

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Teaching English with Art

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Teaching English with Art: Picasso

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Teaching English with Art: Monet.

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Teaching English with Art is the series for you! This eBook series is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. Each volume contains 30 speaking and writing activities for classroom use based on some of the most striking works by famous artists: for now we have MATISSE, PICASSO, CARAVAGGIO, MONET, NORMAN ROCKWELL, WINSLOW HOMER, a special three-in-one volume of MONET + PICASSO + MATISSE (90 activities), and we’ve just launched VAN GOGH.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

PERSONALIZATION: if you wish to change the cover of any of the ebooks, add your school logo, negotiate a special price for a determined number of students, or make other suggestions of customization, do not hesitate to talk to us. We are VERY FLEXIBLE. Make your ebook UNIQUE!

The objective of these eBooks is to expose the students to high art while having them practice English, fulfilling, therefore, one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to practice their English discussing  and doing writing  tasks based on the works of these great artists.  The activities are highly personalized, so the students can express their own opinions and feelings. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and personalization. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it. Ideally both you and your students should purchase the material.  For heads up activities, project the images on a white wall. Chose your favorite artist and click on the corresponding  image below to go to AMAZON.COM and get your e-book:

If you need more instructions on how to purchase the eBooks, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1Cz

Jorge Sette.

Euphoria (HBO): second season (review)


Now that Zendaya won a Best Actress Emmy for the role of the drug addict Rue in the successful HBO series Euphoria, I’m rewatching the second season. I want to check out her performance and decide if the show is as good as I thought it was when I first saw it.

The series is definitely not for the faint of heart. The story, set in the fictitious town of East Highland in California, is about a group of High School teenagers, most of them still living with their highly dysfunctional middle-class families.

Drugs, sex, and cell phones abound. These characters are portrayed in all their rawness, brutality, and emptiness by an extraordinary cast of young and mature actors.

The highlight of the second season is a play within the show (“Our Lives”), created and directed by one of the students, Lexi, who seems to act as the moral center of the story. The play – stunning in itself for us, the home audience – helps the characters sitting in the school theater see themselves as they really are, with all their flaws and inconsistencies (rather than the fake personas they try to create and project), therefore stirring strong emotions, and leading to a huge unscripted fight on the stage. “Art should be dangerous”, says an assistant to the devastated director to soothe her. But the show must go on.

Most of the relevant current themes are discussed in Euphoria, to some extent: friendship, loyalty, love, the opioid crisis, fluid sexuality, transsexualism, pedophilia, toxic masculinity, feminism, sexual orientation, the breakdown of the traditional family and its values, the difficulty to communicate real feelings or develop an authentic personality.

There’s a lot of physical and verbal violence too. Keeping in mind that the objective of ambitious shows is not only to entertain but also to discuss controversial issues and provoke change, Euphoria is a great show, if you can manage to watch the frequent uncomfortable scenes.

Have you had a chance to watch the show? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Jorge Sette

The War of the End of the World, by Vargas Llosa – Book Review


I read Euclides da Cunha’s The Backlands (Os Sertões), a brilliant journalistic account of the War of Canudos, a couple of years ago. The report is extremely well-written, precise, and exciting – to the extent that non-fictional pieces of writing can afford to be, even when they incorporate techniques more typically used in fiction. However, regular readers will agree that nothing can be more thrilling, more stimulating to the imagination, than great novels.

Therefore, even if you loved The Backlands, which I certainly did, don’t miss reading Peruvian writer Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World, the novel based on the same event – a war waged between the official powers of the recently proclaimed Brazilian Republic and a gathering of some 30,000 jagunços (the name given to the impoverished and undernourished inhabitants of the backlands), who built a community, Canudos, in the northeast of Bahia at the end of the nineteenth century.

First of all, I was impressed by how much Llosa knows about Brazil. He must have undertaken extensive and in-depth research about this period of our history. As a consequence, he is quite familiar with the different groups of people who lived in the region, their customs and physical characteristics, the regional names they gave to the native vegetation and geographic locations of the backlands, an area of the interior of the northeast of Brazil punished by constant droughts, leading to poverty, scarcity of all kinds of resources and, as a result, illness, ignorance, and predisposition to all kinds of superstitions and fanaticism.

The War of Canudos is a very complex conflict, involving clashes between opposing political interests,  different economic classes, idiosyncratic religious views, and diverse cosmologies to sum it all up. It was a war between myths, in the broadest sense of the word. The military sent to the region claim they were defending the interests of the Brazilian Republic against heavily armed conservationists backed up by the English and local aristocrats who were trying to revert the country to a monarchy. Nevertheless, the jagunços who came in droves to put together and live in the community of Canudos were mostly Catholics who followed the somewhat peculiar doctrine of the charismatic religious guru Antônio Conselheiro, the Counselor. This religious leader had, with the mere strength of his words and personal example, the power to persuade the simple-minded people of the backlands to turn their violent and empty lives into something more peaceful and meaningful; he gave them loftier aspirations.

Antônio Conselheiro

The War of Canudos needs to be interpreted from different angles and perspectives. The lines separating right and wrong as far as the confronting ideologies went are not clear-cut. Lots of gray areas. The horror, however, made itself rather concrete and clear, through the brutality and violence that took place in those forgotten and distant dry lands of the interior of Brazil during the conflict. Llosa’s novel is not for the faint of heart, by the way. The explicit descriptions of shots, throat slashes, decapitations, stabbings, bombardments, disfigurement of faces, bayonet perforations, dismembering of body parts, causing corpses to accumulate in piles or lie strewn around, exposed to the voracity of famished vultures, dogs and rats, disputing the remains, are nauseating and shocking.

On the other hand, a strange beauty permeates the novel, when it shifts to the narration of the resilience, bravery, abnegation, cooperation, and empathy shown by the jagunços toward each other. It also emerges in the description of the cold star-studded skies at night that alternate with orange moonlit landscapes lacking in water and vegetation – only cacti, mandacarus, and shrubs could survive in such hostile climate – or, also, in the rare and quick passages portraying the sudden and brief storms that brought hope and happiness to the fighters.

The War of the End of the World is a hard book to read, with many different themes to take into consideration and reflect on. Although, at a more superficial level, it seems to be simply the fictionalized account of a real conflict that took place more than 100 years ago, the novel encapsulates relevant and current themes, especially for Brazil, a country whose stark economic inequality and cruelty toward the lower classes are still a sad reality.

Have you read any of the books mentioned in this article? Did you like them? Please leave your comments below.

Jorge Sette

Content Marketing: 12 Tips to Improve Your Business Blog


If you are in marketing, you certainly heard of or practice content marketing. This is the strategy of populating your blog, website and social media channels with written posts, video clips, audio clips, photos, games, infographics, etc. to attract your prospective customers, keep them coming back and start building a relationship with them. Of course, the idea is that this content is somehow related to your business.

You may think your business does not lend itself to this kind of promotion. Believe me: no matter how dry you may think your business is, there is always room to develop a content strategy for it. The efficacy of your marketing team should be measured by their ability to create such content and distribute it. In this day and age, it would be a huge mistake not to go this way. How do you expect to drive traffic to your website if you can’t offer useful information, entertainment, help or clarification about the products and services you sell?

In this blog post, we are focusing on one of the most effective kinds of content you could use on your website: blog posts. Having been an active blogger for the past 7 years, and seeing concrete results emerge from the strategy, I’ve selected 12 tips to help you improve your blog as a marketing tool:

1. Keep the blog on your website: for some kind of bloggers, there’s nothing wrong in using a public platform (such as WordPress or Tumblr) to host your blog. They have all the tools you need, and if you are prepared to pay for an upgrade, the possibilities of enhancement are unlimited. However, if you are a business, and already have a website – and especially if you sell directly through the Internet – why keep two separate sites, diverting your traffic or creating an intermediary step before your prospects reach you? Embed the blog in your main website. It will make it easier to turn prospects into leads, and convert them into buyers, if they are already there.

2. Write quality posts: blogs increase your page rank, allowing your company to appear higher in results lists of search engines. So it’s essential to avoid sloppiness. If you can’t write, hire competent writers. Everyone recognizes a good article when they read it. Have a strong and direct headline, able to capture the attention of the reader, and put a lot of effort into creating a compelling opening to your text. Grammar and spelling should be faultless. The language should be direct and simple. Paragraphs must be well ordered and clearly connected by linguistic cohesive devices. Break up long texts into smaller sections and use subheadings, lists, bullet points and italics as much as possible to guide the reader. Well written blogs, with quality articles, subject to careful Search Engine Optimization (SEO), increase your chances to do better in organic searches. Google specifically seeks to offer their clients the best possible experience in their search. The better your content, the more relevant your headlines and subheadings, the easier it will be for your business to be found on the Internet.

3. Choose an angle: many people write about the same topics. There’s nothing wrong about that. However, make sure your article is written with an original perspective. Make it personal. Base it on your own experience or the image your company wishes to project. Think brand alignment and positioning.

4. Write more frequently: quantity matters. Quality is essential, of course, but numbers also count. Therefore, the more blog posts or pages you have on your site, the bigger your visibility. Google loves freshness. Blogs which are systematically and frequently fed with new quality content gain points in their ever-changing page ranking algorithm.

5. Use images: make sure they are legal and attractive, maybe slightly controversial or funny (they must suit your positioning and brand voice. Do not steal images. Try free or paid photo libraries on the Internet, subscribe to Hubspot (they will reward you with dozens of images on certain topics as a gift now and then; or take your own pictures. Ask members of your staff to contribute their photos to an image bank everyone could draw upon at the company.

6. Write content that is fun, entertaining or inspiring: yet somehow related to your business: not all your posts need to be about your product or service. Use your blog as tool to attract prospects. Use soft sales tactics: get them to see or read something lighthearted or inspiring on your blog post occasionally. Of course, if you can subtly bridge the post to your service and product, even better.

7. Write content that helps educate your prospect: sometimes people will not even know they need a product like yours as they navigate the Web. You need to clearly show them the benefits of what you sell before they get interested. What is your product? What does it do? What problem does it solve? Why is it different? How can they use it? Where?

8. Write content to guide leads through the sales funnel: after you get the prospect’s attention, offer something else to get them even more interested: a free ebook for download, an infographics poster, a sample of your product, a visit from your rep to demonstrate the product. Do not ask them to fill in long forms to get the gift (their email address and opt-in allowing you to contact them should be enough to continue the conversation). Close the deal every step of the way. Closing doesn’t mean necessarily selling, but getting progressive commitments to the next steps along the sales funnel until you get the purchase.

9. Write content to solve your customers problems: use your blog as a troubleshooter. Transfer part of the work done by your customer service to the blog. Tutorials are a great help. You can use blog space to embed short how-to videos, slide presentations, or offer ebooks/white papers for download to help answer questions and have the clients take full advantage of the product after they purchase it.

10. Use social media sharing buttons to allow readers to share your content: people love to curate content. When they see something they like on the Internet, they immediately think of saving that for future reference or sharing it with their own audience. Make sure you make that sharing process direct and easy for them. They will be promoting your stuff to people you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.

11. Elicit the readers participation: unlike the days of Mad Men, the popular TV show, marketing nowadays is a two-way road. Customers wish to comment and talk to you about your product on the internet. Allow them to do so on your blog, so you can keep a closer eye on what is being said and take fast corrective measures if necessary. Invite them to a dialogue, build a community around your blog, by allowing them to post their comments and rate your post. Learn how to be cool: don’t let the compliments go to your head, but also don’t feel thrown off when you get criticisms.

12. Pomote your blog: use as many social media channels as you can to place links to your main content. These are the social media channels I find more useful to drive traffic to my blogs, ordered from the most effective to the least: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Adwords (paid ads),Tumblr, YouTube, Facebook (Meta). You need to try many others and start measuring to find how they work for you.

The payoff of creating and keeping a popular blog is huge. People will start thinking of you as an authority on the topics you usually write about. You will become a thought leader, to use the current buzzword for this kind of reputation. Your audience will grow through word of mouth and higher positions in search engine page results. As a consequence, you’ll slowly become a reference for the kind of service or product you offer. This is likely to have a direct impact on your bottom line.

Jorge Sette

7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty about Eating Chocolate


Very few people don’t like chocolate. It’s the quintessential comfort food. Chocolate was first mentioned in history around 1100 BC. It was first consumed as a drink and, only afterward, in solid form.

Chocolate is a suitable food or gift for many different occasions. Consumption of chocolate is particularly typical during Easter, Valentine’s Day and Christmas.

Chocolate is produced and eaten all over the world, but the countries which are most famous for the quality of their product are: the USA, which is the world’s biggest producer and consumer and whose chocolate contains lots of almonds and peanuts. Their most well-known brands are Hershey, Snickers, Twix, Dagoba, and Milk Way. Belgium: despite the fact that the country does not produce cocoa, it’s one of the largest producers of chocolate in the world. They are famous for the quality of their chocolate’s ingredients and their most famous brands are Nirvana, Godiva, Neuhaus, and Floranne. Switzerland: producers of chocolate since the seventeenth century, the country has the highest per capita consumption of chocolate in the world. They are usually modified versions of Belgian chocolate, though, and their most famous brands are Toblerone, Swiss Army, Cailler Nestle, Lindt, and Glando.

The good news is chocolate is not only delicious but it has also been proven to bring many benefits to your health and well-being. Of course, it’s a very caloric food and should be eaten with restraint. Remember that if you ingest more calories than you burn, you will inevitably put on weight: it’s a mathematical truth. The best chocolate is the dark type, with at least 70% of cocoa, and not much sugar. Here are the main benefits of eating chocolate – with moderation:

1. Chocolate improves your mood: it’s great for stress; helps you beat depression, as it has phenylethylamine (PEA), which induces the brain to release endorphins, giving you a feeling of pleasure. It’s, therefore, a great consolation when you break up with your boyfriend.

2. It makes you feel more romantic: if you haven’t broken up with your partner, though, chocolate is even a better choice. It improves romantic experiences, making you feel loving and passionate.

3. Chocolate makes you live longer: chocolate lowers the levels of bad cholesterol and boosts the levels of good cholesterol. That’s because cocoa has antioxidants, called polyphenols, which can also be found in red wine.

4. It’s very nutritious: we are not talking empty calories here. Chocolate contains fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and selenium.

5. It improves your cognitive skills: due to a component found in cocoa called flavanols.

6. It prevents cancer: pentameric procyanidin, or pentamer, a component found in cocoa, interferes with cancer cells, hindering their ability to spread.

7. It helps prevent diabetes: because it enhances the sensibility to insulin.

If you know of any more benefits to indulging in chocolate, please write to us. We would love to hear from you.

Jorge Sette

The Rolling Stones drive 70,000 Brazilians wild during their last show in São Paulo


This text was first published on February 28, 2016. I felt I should republished it now after the death of Charlie Watts this week. This is for him.

Feb 27th, 2016: Rolling Stones Latin America Olé Tour. After the competent and traditional paulista band Titans, who opened for the Rolling Stones in their two São Paulo shows, completed their participation, the stage began to be cleaned up and prepared to receive rock’n’roll royalty. 

The atmosphere of anticipation was almost unbearable; you could sense the electricity in the air. The Stones’ clever choice of Jumpin’ Jack Flash to kick off the evening struck the unfailing spark to detonate an explosion of historic proportions. The crowd went crazy. It may be only rock and roll but we love it!

For the next two hours, some 70,000 fans, composed of grandparents, parents and kids, rocked, sang and responded, as if in a trance, to Mick Jagger’s antics, which, besides great singing and dancing, included greetings, swearing, and jokes in clear, yet heavily accented, Portuguese – he introduced the circumspect drum player Charlie Watts as Rainha da Bossa Nova (Queen of Bossa Nova). I hope poor Charlie did not get the joke.

In certain moments, the show just felt like some sort of ritualistic exorcism, with people jumping up and down, yelling, sobbing and pulling at their hair – I hadn’t seen this kind of fan hysteria since the worn-out footages of the Beatles arriving in the USA in the early 60s.

As the Stones were not promoting any new record, the show was a dizzying succession of classic hits (Wild Horses, Brown sugar, She’s a Rainbow, Miss you, Paint it Black, Honky Tonk Women, You Cant Always Get What You Want – the latter accompanied by the members of the Coral Sampa – which both moved the older guys who packed the Morumbi stadium, and drove the teenagers and 20-somethings wild. I don’t think the younger generations had ever experienced anything as good in terms of a rock and roll concert here in Brazil. Even better: the band seemed to be having the time of their lives: playing like fiends, smiling widely, being nice and friendly to their adoring Brazilian fans.

The show was indeed iconic, offering the public, at least, two sublime moments:

1. Mick Jagger and the beautiful black vocal singer Sasha Allen took the stage catwalk, which jutted into the audience, and sang what will surely become a legendary version of GIMME SHELTER while the light rain that began to fall shone against the bright spotlights, providing a wonderful and unexpected cinematographic context to the song. As the singers danced, embraced – and even simulated copulation on the stage – I noticed people’s eyes welling up at the exquisiteness of the performance. The rain lasted for the entire number and felt like a momentous gift from heaven to enhance the show. See the unedited, raw video clip below:

2. The audience was also awarded a historic 10 min long rendition of MIDNIGHT RAMBLER, electrifying the crowd, who either sang along or just stared wide-eyed at that mysterious 73-year-old sage, a force of nature, with the face of an old and battered seaman who’s been exposed to the harshest elements, yet carrying the body of a supple teenager, serpentining across the stage with his trademark moves, and slyly raising his t-shirt now and then to show off his well-defined six-pack abs!

But when we hear the first chords of Sympathy for the Devil (three-quarters into the show), and witness Mick Jagger stepping onto the stage in a flaming red boa (repeating an act he had already performed in Martin Scorsese’s documentary SHINE A LIGHT – with the difference that, in the movie, they used real fire!!) everything falls into place: we get confirmation of what we have known all along and yet refused to believe. Mick Jagger is either Faust, having struck a pact with Satan, or an alien dropped by mistake and forgotten on this planet!

To say the concert was perfect would be accurate, if only Keith Richards had refrained from singing two songs half-way into the event. Embarrassingly out of tune, he must abandon this recurring fit of narcissism and stick to what he does best: playing the guitar like a god.

The concert finished with the anthemic I can’t get no satisfaction, followed by a discreet display of fireworks. To its credit, the whole show keeps visual effects and pyrotechnics to the barest minimum. What we get is two hours of solid, raw, and uncompromising rock and roll. Worth every cent you may have spent on the ticket!

On a final note, let’s just point out that, although Mick Jagger avoided making political comments on the situation of the country during the show, whenever the movie crew who was registering the event trained their cameras at the audience, small groups would spontaneously break into offensive chants against President Dilma Rousseff.

Jorge Sette

5 Classic Movie Dads


Here are some of the most popular dads in classic movies. Celebrate the upcoming Father’s Day – Sunday, Aug 8, in Brazil – watching any of them with your old man. Some of them are available on Netflix. Maybe there’s still time to purchase a DVD too.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1964): The Open-Minded Dad 

One of the most beloved movie dads of all time, Gregory Peck plays the widowed lawyer Atticus Finch, who goes up against an entire town in Alabama in the 1930s to defend a young black man accused of raping the daughter of a drunken bigot. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical account of the late author Harper Lee’s childhood. The story is seen through the naïve eyes of Atticus’ adoring, tomboyish daughter Scout, who leads a happy life, playing in the bucolic countryside in the company of her older brother Jem and a younger, precocious boy called Dill, who, most likely, represents her lifelong friend Truman Capote. Scout learns, by observing her dad’s impeccable behaviour, to respect and promote diversity in all its forms.

The Godfather (1972): The Mob Dad

This seminal mob movie from the early seventies reinvented the gangster genre by showing the Mafia from the perspective of family life. The portrait of a close and loving relationship between a father (Marlon Brando) and his sons, depicted against the backdrop of a violent war among mob families in New York, has both shocked and mesmerized audiences for almost 50 years now. The unexpected rise to leadership of the least likely of Don Corleone’s sons, the college educated and sensitive Michael (Al Pacino), who, on assuming the role of the head of the family, surpasses his father in coldness, decisiveness and cruelty, still has the power to galvanize audiences.

Jaws (1975): The Superhero Dad 

Based on Peter Benchley’s bestselling book, Jaws was the first of the so-called blockbusters, earning an estimated $407 million at the box office. Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) will be forever remembered as the worried dad who, not only grows overprotective of his two young boys, but becomes the surrogate father of the whole beach town of Amity. Brody sets out to kill the great white shark that haunts the summer resort, in a Moby Dick–style expedition. The repetitive chords of the iconic John Williams’ music score and the line you’re gonna need a bigger boat, uttered by Brody after his first glimpse of the huge shark, have been a part of pop culture since the movie’s release.

Back to the Future (1985): The Goofy Dad 

A strong premise, great acting across the board, lots of action and humor, plus a a wonderful soundtrack, combine to make Back to the Future a landmark 80s movie. The focus here is on Marty McFly (the ultra charismatic Michael J. Fox), but the majority of the story revolves around his efforts to duck his mother’s romantic advances, while trying to create the necessary conditions for her to meet his shy father so that they can fall in love and marry, resulting in the existence of the family in the present.

Confusing? Not really, Marty is accidentally sent back to 1955 (from 1985) in a time machine made from a car, a 1982 DeLorean DMC-12, by his friend, the mad scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Marty attempts to put some order into his future parents’ chaotic lives.

Wall Street (1987): The Sensible Dad

The movie begins with Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) looking to climb the Wall Street ladder. His father, Carl (Martin Sheen), is a head mechanic at Bluestar Airlines, and reveals the results of an investigation into a plane crash. By using this inside information to presell the airliner’s stock before it crashes, Bud becomes the protégé of Wall Street wolf Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Bud climbs to the top quickly, accumulating money, power, and women. Eventually, he becomes a heavy drug user. Luckily, his father is there for him to cushion his fall.

Can you add any other famous Dads from movies you have enjoyed to this post? Go ahead and use the comments section below.

Jorge Sette

Highlights from the book Machado de Assis: A Literary Life, by K. David Jackson


In his in-depth work, K. David Jackson, Professor of Portuguese at Yale University, focuses on the oeuvre of Machado de Assis, rather than on more personal aspects of his life. If, on the one hand, you wish you’d get to know more about the man behind some of the greatest works of the Latin American literary canon, Jackson’s choice is understandable. Machado was a very private person, who led a rather uneventful and quiet life, totally devoted to his artistic objective: the construction of a philosophical and fictional world.

This detailed work by K. David Jackson isn’t, therefore, your typical biography, but a fascinating study of Machado’s output, illuminating unsuspected aspects of his fiction and acquainting the reader with hidden facets of his creative process.

Here are some of the most engaging points made in the book:

1. Biographical landmarks: Machado de Assis, known as the Wizard of Cosme Velho (the neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro where he lived), was the co-founder and first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (1897). His most famous works are the Carioca Quintet (a set of five novels published from 1881 to 1908: The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas; Quincas Borba; Dom Casmurro; Esau and Jacob; Counselor Aires’ Memoirs). He died in 1908 at the age of 69. His image was used on a Brazilian banknote in 1988, and he was the featured author at the International Literary Festival Party of Paraty (FLIP) in 2008, to celebrate the centenary of his death.

Brazilian academy of Letters

2. His importance: According to Jackson, Machado’s writings ought to be placed alongside the works of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Hardy, Melville, Stendhal, and Flaubert.

3. Innovation: Having started off as a romantic writer and progressively become associated with the Realist artistic movement in Brazil, Machado is said to have anticipated the modernist narrative features found in Proust, Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Camus, Mann, and Borges.

4. Features: Machado’s work is hybrid and cannibalistic (intertextual). Through extensive reading, he assimilated and digested an incredible amount of information on Western culture as a whole (arts, music, philosophy, and literature), and based on these sources produced a very original body of work, using the social context of the city of the Rio de Janeiro during the Empire as a means to discuss and represent, mainly through parody and satire, universal truths and human dilemmas.

5. His most important works (such as The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas and Dom Casmurro) feature unreliable character-narrators, whose hallucinations dreams and obsessions are said to anticipate Freud’s psychoanalytic theories.

6. Theater and opera: These are among the main influences in the construction of the fictional space of Machado de Assis. Rio de Janeiro hosted a great number of European theater and opera companies in the 19th century, which allowed Machado to be exposed to a lot of comedic operas (opera buffa) and plays, which are not only frequently referenced in his fiction, but are also woven into the fabric of his works.

7. Shakespeare’s Othello: the classic story of the Moor who kills his wife Desdemona out of jealousy is reflected in the feelings – if not the actions – of important protagonists of Machado’s fiction. Othello is, for example, one of the main inspirations of Bento Santiago, the character-narrator of Dom Casmurro, whose insecurity and obsessions prompt him to write his memoirs as a way of persuading himself and the readers that his wife, Capitu, had an affair with his best friend Escobar, bearing an illegitimate son, Ezequiel.

Desdemona and Othello, Théodore Chassériau, 1847.

8. Social Darwinism and Positivism – dominating scientific theories at the time – were strongly criticized and ridiculed by Machado, especially through the fictitious philosophy of HUMANITAS, summarized by the motto To the Victor, the Potatoes, created by the mentally unstable character Quincas Borba, who first appeared in The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. He later made a comeback in the novel Quincas Borba (although, in typically oblique Machadian fashion, he’s not the protagonist of the book).

9. Main themes: Machado’s work is a profound depiction of Rio de Janeiro society during the Empire. This microcosm, however, is used by the author only as a familiar context for the highlighting of universal themes, such as legitimacy, chastity, honesty, hypocrisy, adultery and cruelty, which receive a modernist treatment in his hands.

If you haven’t had the chance to read Machado de Assis yet, K. David Jackson’s book will surely whet your appetite. For those, like me, who have read and reread Machado on a regular basis, Jacksons’ work was a surprising and welcome source of new interpretations of the familiar novels and short stories the Brazilian author is most famous for.

Jorge Sette

The Gene: An Intimate History – 10 Key Lessons from the Book


It’s exciting to have complex scientific concepts explained in everyday language, in a way that makes you acknowledge the relevance of the topic and understand how it affects your life. There is a line of great books that do that. In general, they belong to a genre called ‘popular science’ books.

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukherjee – a cancer physician and researcher as well as a stem cell biologist and cancer geneticist – goes way beyond that narrow genre definition, though. With the objective of discussing “the birth, growth and the future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas” in science (the gene), the author explores historical facts and tells personal anecdotes about the main people involved in the narrated events, and bravely includes information about his own Indian family history – with its many cases of mental illnesses – to illustrate points and, ultimately, to justify his interest in the subject.

Containing a great number of literary and movie references, and using language that becomes poetic and evocative at times, the author does not hesitate to apply clarifying metaphors to help us understand processes and results. The Gene, therefore, must be categorized as a hybrid text, with strands of history, science, biographical data and literature tightly interwoven in a fascinating whole, in which issues of heredity, illness, normalcy, family and identity are discussed.

In this post, we list and summarize 10 key lessons we have learned. Of course, we will be simplifying and reducing much of the fascinating content you will find in the book.

1. Darwin and Mendel: The science of genetics started off in the middle of the 19th century, with the development of Darwin’s theory of the origin and evolution of species (based on the idea of mutations, natural selection and the survival of the fittest) and the first heredity experiments carried out by Gregor Mendel in his pea garden in the backyard of the Augustinian abbey where he lived. Mendel discovered that heredity was handed down through discreet units, which were much later – in 1909 – called genes.

2. Eugenics: In 1869, Francis Galton coins the term “eugenics,” in his book Heredity Genius. Eugenics misused new genetic discoveries, helping create distorted and evil racial hygiene government policies, which enabled the setup of special asylums and the submission of mentally ‘feeble’ women to sterilization by force in the 1920s in the US, and the promotion of Nazi ideas about the purification and preservation of the Aryans as a superior race during the 1930s and 40s, with the extermination of millions of human beings.

3. The gene: If the atom is the basic unit of the matter and provides an organizing principle for physics, genes represent a similar unit in biology and provide similar organizing functions. Genes are parts or stretches of chromosomes – “long, filamentous structures buried within cells.” Human cells contain forty-six chromosomes: 23 inherited from one of parent and 23 from the other. They provide recipes (instructions for processes: basically the making of different kinds of proteins) and regulate all the work done by our cells. They are located in the nucleus of the cell.

4. Chromosomes: Chromosomes are made up of a special molecule called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), composed of sugar, phosphate and four kinds of bases (guanine, thymine, adenine and cytosine). The DNA structure – discovered by Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin in 1953 – consists of a double helix format with two strands linked by the bases.

5. RNA (ribonucleic acid): RNA is another molecule, similar to the DNA in structure, but with a single strand. It copies stretches of code from the DNA and serves as a messenger, carrying instructions from the genes located in the nucleus to the cytoplasm – the liquid part of the cell outside the nucleus – where proteins will be assembled according to the RNA code. Proteins compose most of the structures of our tissues, signal the initiation of processes and accelerate chemical reactions in our bodies. They rule.

6. Diseases associated with genes: From 1978 to 1988 a series of disease-linked genes were mapped. There are basically two kinds of gene-related diseases: monogenetic (involving one gene, such as cystic fibrosisand Huntington’s disease) and polygenetic (involving the coordination of a number of genes – most diseases, including cancer and schizophrenia, belong in this category). Besides, the effect genes have on the development of diseases is influenced by the level of penetrance. This means that different gene-related diseases are more likely to express themselves than others. The environment also plays an important role, working as a trigger to some of the diseases.

7. The ‘gay gene’: As of 1993 scientists started wondering if homosexuality could be directly linked to a gene. While there is evidence that there is a strong correlation between sexual orientation and the presence of a gene or a group of genes located in a certain region of the X chromosome, no one knows for sure how the process of formation of sexual identity is carried out. There may be other regulators scattered across other parts of the genome (see definition below); there’s no doubt that powerful environmental inputs or triggers are also at play here.

8. Race: Genetic studies disprove the mythical concept of race. Studies show that there is more variation within a “race” (85% to 90% percent of the level of total diversity of the human genome) than between the so-called “races” (only 7%).

9. The genome: The genome is the collection of all genes (with annotations, footnotes, and references) found in a species. In human beings, it amounts to three billion base-pairs, divided up into 21,000 to 23,000 genes (differentiated parts or stretches of the whole genome). In the year 2000, a draft sequence of The Human Genome Project, an international initiative to map and sequence the entire human genome, was announced.

10. The future: In the past years or so, we have developed new technologies which allow us to manipulate, re-engineer and edit genomes. We are at the stage where scientists are able to alter the human genome permanently, but we still don’t know all the moral, ethical, and physical implications of that. One of the objectives of this book is to bring more people into this interesting discussion. For the first time in history we will be creating a new species of humanoids. It’s, therefore, essential that all kinds of voices in the global community express their concerns, present their cases, and share their perspectives before we go down this road, as the process may be irreversible.

Siddartha Mukherjee’s previous book – The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the Guardian First Book Award.

Jorge Sette.

Tent of Miracles, by Jorge Amado: Racism and Parochialism Against the Backdrop of a Mythic Bahia


Jorge Amado (1912-2001), one of the most popular and internationally known Brazilian authors, started his career writing realistic books that carried a biting criticism of the economic elites and their exploitation of the working classes and the poor. This Marxist phase characterized the first of his works. After the publication of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon in 1958, however, his novels became more populist and satirical, with a stronger focus on the sensuality and picturesque aspects of the afro-Brazilian culture of the author’s native state of Bahia, located in the northeast of the country. The author was harshly criticized by many for having changed his tone.

With Tent of Miracles, first published in 1969, one could say that Amado managed to strike a fine balance, providing a serious examination of Brazilian socio-economic issues and highlighting the hedonism and colorfulness of the Bahian culture, with its stunningly beautiful mulatto women, the freewheeling sensuality of its people, their lively songs, and dances and the prevalence of African-originated religions and cults.

The Themes

Tent of Miracles is a strong satire on the parochialism of the Brazilian intelligentsia – which needs validation from developed countries, especially from the US, before appreciating local talents in all areas of art and knowledge. The novel is also an inspired ode against racism, praising the power and beauty of miscegenation. In that respect, we can say that the themes of the book are more relevant than ever in today’s global context of generalized xenophobia, racism, and prejudice against diversity.

The Plot

The story kicks off when a Nobel Prize-winning North-American scholar, D.J. Levinson, comes across some forgotten books in the library of Columbia University and decides that their author is one of the best anthropologists he’s ever read. The racial considerations and the detailed description of the customs and “folkways” of the racially-mixed people of Bahia found in those four dusty volumes deserve to be known and discussed by the global academic community. The author, a black Brazilian called Pedro Archanjo, lived in Bahia for 75 years (1868 -1943), doing menial work in the streets of the city of Salvador (called Bahia at the time), destitute and unrecognized by his upper-class contemporaries. Levinson then comes to Brazil to experience first hand the theories put forward in the books and to promote their author.

Of course, the announcement of the arrival of the US luminary makes headlines in the biggest newspapers of Brazil. This arouses the interest and greed of the local authorities, intellectuals, and politicians, who wish to advance their own personal agendas, tapping into the newly-elevated status of Pedro Archanjo to scientific prodigy. It’s decided that the centenary of Pedro Archanjo’s birth – about to take place at the end of the year – deserves a fitting and official celebration in the city after all.

At this point, the lesser writer and poet Fausto Pena is hired by Professor Levinson to do research into the life and times of Pedro Archanjo, spanning more than 70 decades. In reality, Levinson’s main objective is to get Pena out of they way so that he can enjoy the pleasant company of the poet’s girlfriend, the journalist Ana Mercedes, an unashamedly social climbing mulatto beauty.

As a result, it is through Fausto Pena’s eyes that we get to know the story of Pedro Archanjo, despite all the gaps, incongruences and half-truths he gathers in his notes. We learn about Archanjo’s popularity among women, the innumerable children he fathered out of wedlock, his work as a runner for the School of Medicine and, finally, his rising awareness of the social conditions of the underprivileged people of Bahia, subject to all kinds of oppression, violence, and prejudice. Archanjo then decides to self-educate, write about race relations, and become a political militant.

Despite its important and political undertones, the story, of course, unfurls against the backdrop of a poetic and colorful Bahia, with humorous anecdotes and detailed descriptions of the rituals of the local afro-influenced religions, the local foods and spices, the dance and music. Jorge Amado kept many original African words in these passages – wisely kept in the translation into English – presenting a complete glossary in the back of the book.

The Characters

The characters of Tent of Miracles are not entirely realistic, but ironic representations of specific types that populate the Brazilian collective imagination. We can split them into the powerful (corrupt politicians, controlling newspaper editors, arrogant college professors) and the disenfranchised (the malandros, bon vivants, ruffians, drunks, gorgeous mulatto women, old wise men, and gold-hearted prostitutes). 

Most of them, however, come across as a bit underwritten; they are not fully rounded characters. Pedro Archanjo, of course, personifies all the contradictions of a typical popular hero, as all his facets are praised in the Carnival celebration held in his honor at the end of the book: minor candomblé priest, vagabond, striker, runner of the School of Medicine (where he started his more formal education), heavy drinker, womanizer, teacher, sorcerer and writer! 

The Style

Although the book has strong elements of magical realism, especially in the scenes that take place in the candomblé terreiros, the space where the afro-religions and cults have their rituals (devotees embarking in trances; divinities taking possession of their bodies; supernatural events occurring; myth and reality getting intertwined), most of the plot develops in a fairly realistic and straightforward way.

The Relevance of Tent of Miracles Today

Jorge Amado

Written during the first years of the Brazilian military dictatorship, the passages depicting the brutal repression by the police of the Afro-Catholic cults, the bloody raids against the terreiros, and the beating or killing of their members – which happened especially during the 1920s and 30s – can be interpreted as a fitful metaphor of the times.

The novel, however, does not feel dated at all, as its themes are still universal and very concrete. The irony made explicit in the story is that miscegenation deeply permeates the whole of Brazilian society, and, thus, the bigotry and racism of people whose mixed-race blood is either carefully hidden in the family past or even naively ignored are laughable and hypocritical. It’s time for Brazil – and other countries in the world – to bury the myth of white supremacy and come to terms with the fact that we’ll carry on living in an irreversibly multicultural, mixed and diverse society.

Jorge Sette