Brazilian backlands (sertão) – natural disaster or ecocatastrophe? An ecocritical reading of João Guimarães Rosa’s landscapes


In the wake of some realist novels and of Euclides da Cunhaʼs Os sertões [Rebellion in the Backlands, 1902], a body of writing known as “regionalist literature” developed in the 1930s around the sertão, the semi-arid region of the northeast center of Brazil, which becomes invariably depicted as a universe of natural and human catastrophe inhabited by characters of few words, emotions or thoughts. At first glance, it seems that João Guimarães Rosa should be part of this regionalist lineage: all his stories revolve around the landscape of the sertão, and his only novel is entitled Grande sertão: Veredas [The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, 1956]. Nevertheless, not only does Guimarães Rosa locate his geographical sertão in a slightly different place than the regionalists did (i.e. in the Minas Gerais), but his way of describing the sertão as the product of the interactions between human practices and the natural environment renders his work distinct from these authors. To better highlight this difference, we will rely on the concepts of “natural disaster” and “ecocatastrophe” as defined by Kate Rigby in her book Dancing with Disaster.



sertão, paradise, regionalist literature, biodiversity, natural disaster, ecocatastrophe, ecocriticism

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Published : 2022-10-01

Fournier Kiss, C. (2022) “Brazilian backlands (sertão) – natural disaster or ecocatastrophe? An ecocritical reading of João Guimarães Rosa’s landscapes”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies, (37). doi: 10.15290/CR.2022.37.2.03.

Corinne Fournier Kiss
University of Bern  Switzerland

Corinne Fournier Kiss teaches Comparative Literature,  with a focus on Romance and Slavic Literatures, at the Universities of Bern and Fribourg. Her recent publications include the monograph “Germaine de Staël et George Sand en dialogue avec leur consoeurs polonaises” (Clermont-Ferrand 2020), which has also been translated into Polish (Warsaw 2022). Her main interests are Literature and Interculturality, Literature of the Fantastic, Francophone Literatures, Women’s Writing and the Representations of Space (cities, borders and gardens). Currently, she is working on a project about the representation of Amazonia in literature using an ecocritical approach.