Brazilian poet Ledo Ivo's Snakes' Nest is a "tale badly told" in a most artful manner. Part political allegory, the novel explores the nature of good and evil in a provincial port in northeastern Brazil during World War II--all the ills of the repressive dictatorship then in power are reflected in the corrupt and violent society of Maceio. As Ivo says: "During a dictatorship, all narratives are poorly told, since a dictatorship is the Kingdom of Lies and cannot tolerate the truth." But to focus solely on the allegory would deny the richness of the book's many layers, the considerable skill with which the characters emerge from the narrator's false starts, the subtle and pervasive wit that skewers pomposity and pretension, the suspense created by the narrator's very unreliability, and the poetry with which the exotic setting is evoked. The last word in describing such a heady mixture belongs to the author, who calls it, "a story of terror and violence that is, surely, a sunny nightmare." Although Ledo Ivo is well known in his own country as a journalist and poetic spokesman of the "Generation of 1945," this edition of Snakes' Nest marks his first book-length appearance in English. Originally published in 1973 under the title Ninho de Cobras, Snakes' Nest won the prestigious Brazilian Walmap Prize for that year. The novel has been translated by Kern Krapohl who, for several years, lived in Brazil and worked closely with the author. Jon M. Tolman of the University of New Mexico has contributed an informative introduction which clearly places the story both historically and geographically.
Jon M. Tolman, in an introduction, describes this book by Brazilian novelist/poet Ivo as "a microcosm of violence and corruption" as well as a political allegory critical of the Vargas regime of mid-century Brazil and the current dictatorship. But though all this may be true, the American reader is likely to take away less politics from this "tale badly told" (the novel's disingenuous subtitle) than a kind of conglomerate of history and mood: the sort of magical shuffle plus regional genealogy that is so characteristic of the contemporary Latin-American novel. A wandering fox is killed in the streets of Maceio, in the province of Alagoas - an obviously, but obscurely, symbolic event. A travel agent commits suicide (or was he killed by the Brotherhood, a local mafia?). A whore yearns to work in the established precincts of a brothel. A bastard bachelor is caught and tortured and killed for writing and sending anonymous letters of scandal. A nun meditates on the seamlessness of evil. All these vignettes are mixed up in the sweaty pot of a port-city's locale; and the stew is piquant enough - rococo, sensual. But one gets the feeling that a lot of the original flavors here have been badly spoiled in shipping - and though this montage is frequently interesting, only those highly expert in Brazilian political history will be likely to make much sense of it. (Kirkus Reviews)