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Graciliano Ramos: Vidas sêcas (Barren Lives)

The Portuguese title more accurately represents the theme of this novel. It means Dry Lives and the main characters lead not only dull lives but, at the beginning and end of this novel, they face a major drought. The story concerns Fabiano, his wife, Vitória, their two sons and their dog. At the beginning they are traveling to avoid the drought affecting the whole region. They finally arrive at an abandoned farm where they settle. Fabiano becomes the herdsman of the landowner and they settle down to some sort of existence. However, this family is one of perennial victims. Fabiano is always getting cheated. For example, when he goes to town, he spends their hard earned money gambling. Of course, he loses, sure that he has been cheated. Unfortunately, the local policeman has also been cheated in the game and attacks and then arrests Fabiano. The local merchants and his employer cheat him, leaving him penniless. While he takes it out on his family and the dog, he still is resentful all the time. Poor Vitória suffers. She has one dream – a nice bed – and one consolation, namely her pipe. The children almost fade into the background.

Ramos’ story is one of people who, whatever they do, cannot win. They know that they are being cheated, that life is against them, but they cannot work out how or, more particularly, how to deal with it. The dog dies – Fabiano has to kill it – but the family goes on, once more facing drought and struggle and unsure of what the future would hold for them. Ramos tells the story and tells it well in a straightforward manner, not giving his opinion but letting Fabiano and Vitória express their own feelings.

Publishing history

First published 1938 by J. Olympio
First published in English 1965 by University of Texas Press
Translated by Ralph Edward Dimmick