Translated by Kern Krapohl
Brazilian poet Lêdo Ivo’s Snakes’ Nest is a “tale badly told” in a most artful manner. Part political allegory, the novel explores the nature of good and evil in a provincial port in northeastern Brazil during World War II––all the ills of the repressive dictatorship then in power are reflected in the corrupt and violent society of Maceió. As Ivo says: “During a dictatorship, all narratives are poorly told, since a dictatorship is the Kingdom of Lies and cannot tolerate the truth.” But to focus solely on the allegory would deny the richness of the book’s many layers, the considerable skill with which the characters emerge from the narrator’s false starts, the subtle and pervasive wit that skewers pomposity and pretension, the suspense created by the narrator’s very unreliability, and the poetry with which the exotic setting is evoked. The last word in describing such a heady mixture belongs to the author, who calls it, “a story of terror and violence that is, surely, a sunny nightmare.” Although Lêdo Ivo is well known in his own country as a journalist and poetic spokesman of the “Generation of 1945,” this edition of Snakes’ Nest marks his first book-length appearance in English. Originally published in 1973 under the title Ninho de Cobras, Snakes’ Nest won the prestigious Brazilian Walmap Prize for that year. The novel has been translated by Kern Krapohl who, for several years, lived in Brazil and worked closely with the author. Jon M. Tolman of the University of New Mexico has contributed an informative introduction which clearly places the story both historically and geographically.