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Euclides da Cunha

Updated on December 1, 2016

Euclides da Cunha (1866-1909) was a Brazilian writer, who wrote Os sertoes, a non-fiction work that is considered one of Brazil's literary classics. Euclides da Cunha was born on Jan. 20, 1866, in Santa Rita do Rio Negro, municipality of Cantagalo. He attended the Brazilian Military Academy, where he was known for his republican ideas. He was dismissed from the school in 1888 for an act of disrespect toward the minister of war, but he was reinstated the following year when Brazil became a republic. He graduated as a civil engineer but worked mainly at writing.

In 1897, as a reporter for a Sao Paulo newspaper, Cunha accompanied the army forces that were sent to Canudos, in the sertao (hinterland region) of the state of Bahia, to crush a rebellion by followers of the religious fanatic Antonio Conselheiro. Cunha recorded his experiences in Os sertoes, a book that brought him instant fame and inaugurated a new era in Brazilian literature. His report, a gloomy account of conditions in the hinterlands, is full of pity for the underprivileged. Some critics consider Os sertoes "the most Brazilian" of all books, because it furnishes a key to the Brazilian soul. With almost photographic realism, it depicts a tragic human and physical situation.

Besides his masterpiece, Cunha's writing includes several minor studies of social conditions in Brazil. He held various posts in the ministry of foreign affairs from 1904 until his death in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 15, 1909.


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