This English-language version of a classic of Brazilian colonial literature is both belated and timely. Frederick Holden Hall (1915-72), late Luso-Brazilian bibliographer at the Newberry Library, devoted years to the translation and annotated edition of the 1618 manuscript. After his death, the project was taken on by friends whose painstaking efforts are highly praised in the foreword by José Antônio Gonsalves de Mello, the distinguished editor of the definitive Brazilian edition (which appeared in 1966).

The manuscript’s author, now generally assumed to be Ambrósio Fernandes Brandão (fl. 1555-1634), a New Christian businessman who alternated between Lisbon and the Northeast coast of Brazil as tithe-contract agent, merchant-planter, and royal fiscal official, couched a then avant-garde opinion in an antique literary device: Brazil, not India, was the true “jewel in the crown” of the Portuguese Empire. The dialogues, numbering six, register conversations over the course of a week, between Brandônio, as the voice of the author, in zealous defense of the Brazil colony and its potential, and his more skeptical friend, Alviano, who is gradually won to Brandônio’s side. The argument is made by exhaustive description of the geography of settlement (Dialogue I); dismissal of concerns about the salubriousness of the climate (Dialogue II); exposition of principal economic activities, including sugar and cotton cultivation, brazilwood and other timbering, ambergris collecting, and trade (Dialogue III); a rapturous recital of the variety of foodstuffs (Dialogue IV); and, in an unplanned diversion from points on local animal husbandry, particularly cattle raising, an account of the “maze of . . . species, . . . [with] tongue-twisting names . . . that live in this great Brazilian land” (Dialogue V, p. 263); and finally a look at the population, with short shrift given the minority of European colonists and their slave minions, followed by an extensive ethnographic account of the native Tupinambas, The attentive reader eavesdrops on congenial exchanges, enlivened by Brandônio’s colorful anecdotes, sharp criticism of colonial policy, and practical proposals for development.

Brief editorial comments introduce each dialogue. Annotations are extensive and thorough, illuminating obscure terminology, clarifying turns in the text, and all but apologizing for the distracting circumlocutions of the author. The smooth translation renders eccentric prose surprisingly accessible. An appendix, “The Lives and Works of the Principal Chroniclers,” situates Brandão among his contemporaries. As interest rises in comparative colonization and debates on the New World on the eve of the quincentenary celebrations, Brazilianists are extremely fortunate to have a text as rare and suitable as this one to share with colleagues and students.