A fascinating and gripping story about the lives of subsistence farmers in Brazil's poorest region. Translated from Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz.

Deep in Brazil’s neglected Bahia hinterland, two sisters find an ancient knife beneath their grandmother’s bed and, momentarily mystified by its power, decide to taste its metal. The shuddering violence that follows marks their lives and binds them together forever. 

Crooked Plow was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024, announced on April 9 2024.


 

Shortlisted
The International Booker Prize 2024
Published by
Verso Fiction
Publication date

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Portrait of author Itamar Vieira Junior

Itamar Vieira Junior

About the Author

Itamar Vieira Junior was born in Salvador, Brazil in 1979. He holds a doctorate in Ethnic and African Studies.

More about Itamar Vieira Junior
Portrait of translator Johnny Lorenz

Johnny Lorenz

About the Author

Johnny Lorenz, son of Brazilian immigrants to the United States, is a translator, poet and literary critic.
More about Johnny Lorenz

What the International Booker Prize 2024 judges said

‘Bibiana and Belonisía are two sisters whose inheritance arrives in the form of a grandmother’s mysterious knife, which they discover while playing, then unwrap from its rags and taste. The mouth of one sister is cut badly and the tongue of the other is severed, injuries that bind them together like scar tissue, though they bear the traces in different ways. Set in the Bahia region of Brazil, where approximately one third of all enslaved Africans were sent during the height of the slave trade, the novel invites us into the deep-rooted relationships of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous peoples to their lands and waters – including the ways these communities demand love, gods, song, and dream – despite brutal colonial disruptions. An aching yet tender story of our origins of violence, of how we spend our lives trying to bloom love and care from them, and of the language and silence we need to fuel our tending.’  


 

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

What the critics said

Oliver Basciano, Art Review

‘While Crooked Plow carries in its DNA the early books of Jorge Amado, the famed modernist writer who also took Bahia as inspiration, many of Vieira Júnior’s themes are drawn from his day job of 15 years at INCRA, a government agency dedicated to rural land-reform and the legacy of the quilombos (the settlements established by runaway enslaved people). At one point, Bibiana’s boyfriend notes the slippage of identity in response to the vagaries of Brazilian law: “we started calling ourselves Indians. Because we knew there was a law, even if it was regularly violated, that forbade Indians to be expelled from their lands.” In the final third of the book, the story takes an even darker turn, one that again reflects wider Brazilian history, as the disenfranchised begin to grapple not just with state violence and economic exploitation, but with that of criminal parastates in which the lines between legitimate business and gangs, politician and kingpin, are blurred. This is a saga that tells not just the story of two siblings, but the enduring dysfunction of a nation.’

Angel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times

‘Since the publication of Crooked Plow, Vieira Junior has been hailed as an heir to a tradition of Brazilian storytellers from the north-east including Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos, José Lins do Rego and Joaõ Guimarães Rosa. A geographer and ethnographer by training, Vieira Júnior conducted academic research into the plight of Afro-descendant communities in Brazil’s north-east. Yet the prose is far from academic. It is rooted, instead, in the voices and languages of the sertão, in the names of the animals and plants, in the oral storytelling traditions of ancient communities, in the richness of the spirit world. That is one of the novel’s greatest strengths. An impressive first novel by an important literary voice.’

Kirkus Reviews

‘Among the laudable feats Vieira Junior accomplishes in this novel is the way it gradually moves from a highly specific story to one with implications for a region’s entire working class. In a book that often concerns itself with voices both singular and collective, it’s a stirring progression. This is a stirring, lived-in novel of struggles both personal and societal.’