José Luiz Passos


© Fernanda Fiamoncini



José Luiz Passos, born in Catende, Pernambuco, in 1971, is Professor of Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Cultures at the University of California in LA. He was also director of the Center for Brazilian Studies and has published a number of short stories, essays and plays. His novel O sonâmbulo amador won the Telecom Prize 2013 and the PT Grand Prize 2013. It also received the Brasília Literary Prize 2014 for the best novel published in 2012 and 2013.



A domestic worker confronts her rural origins against the backdrop of the 2013 political protests in Rio. As demonstrators rail against President Dilma Rousseff’s government, this aging woman—a cook—listens to the endless chatter of a professor who tries to account for her life’s hardships and the current shortcomings of Brazilian democracy. They embark on a journey into politics highlighted by her supposed connection to Brazil’s first dictator Floriano Peixoto, known as the Iron Marshal. The cook obsesses over her supposed relative and President Rousseff’s recent speeches. Walking the same streets Floriano had walked a century earlier she and the professor contemplate an eerie parallel between the beginnings of Brazilian democracy and its current challenges.

Blending fact and fiction, O marechal de costas (“The Iron Marshal”) depicts these challenges in a complex and engaging panorama of Brazilian politics over the past 120 years.



A few days before retiring, Jurandir travels to Recife to settle a labour issue and ends up committed to a psychiatric hospital. Reporting on his dreams while remembering his affair with a colleague and the tragic death of his son André, a different perspective on his past life starts to unfold. O sonâmbulo amador (“The Amateur Sleepwalker”) chronicles the adventures of a disenchanted, humble protagonist, revealing the wounds of his past as in a jigsaw. The novel won the Telecom Prize 2013.


A brilliant novel.

Folha de S. Paulo



His debut novel Nosso grão mais fino (“Our Finer Grain”) is a lyrical portrait of family decadence and love gone wrong in twentieth-century Brazil. Ana and Vicente recall the ending of their affair and how it started back on their families’ sugarcane plantation. Together, they try to make sense of Ana’s father’s suicide during a Zeppelin trip, which changed their lives: Ana married Vicente’s uncle and made Vicente her secret lover, thus leaving both men in limbo. But while Vicente prefers the uncanny presence of past possibilities, Ana holds on to real life. The innovative unfolding of the narrative and the dense atmosphere make this novel the new literary discovery from Brazil.


Passos explores the intimacy of the feudal families from the northeast of Brazil with incredible richness. This is great prose.

A Tarde


I can only recommend it.

Milton Hatoum


A matured prose style, bordering on poetry, makes this novel an adventure of language and sensibility.

Literary supplement of Pernambuco


This work represents a truly modern novel within Brazilian literature.

Jornal do Brasil


A beautiful novel, enveloped in memory and the scent of sugar.



A daring novel in its attempt at unpeeling the identity game of a ‘regional’ self.

Jornal do Commércio, Recife


The sugarcane landscape that serves as a background to the story of love and family decadence created by Passos is haunted with ruins.

Jerônimo Teixeira, Veja


You are also welcome to visit the author’s website:





O marchal de costas

Rio de Janeiro: Alfaguara 2016

English sample translation available


Nosso grão mais fino

Rio de Janeiro: Alfaguara 2009, 157 p.

English sample translation available


O sonâmbulo amador,

Rio de Janeiro: Alfaguara, 2012, 270 p.

Excerpt in Magazine Granta (Brazilian edition), 2011

English sample translation available

Telecom Prize 2013 and PT Grand Prize 2013

Brasília Literary Prize for the best novel published in 2012 and 2013

Argentina: Edhasa 2015 Norway: Solum Forlag 2018


Stories (selection):


Nova continuidade dos parques

Berkeley: University of California (Lucero: A Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies) 1998


Laszlo, Marisa e meu pai

Berkeley: University of California (Lucero: A Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies) 2006



São Paulo: Revista É 2009



Theatre (selection):


Carmelo’s War, 79 p.

In English competitively selected for a staged reading at the 32nd Comparative Drama Conference, Los Angeles 2008



Non-fiction (selection):


Ruínas de linhas puras: quatro ensaios em torno a Macunaíma

São Paulo: Annablume Editora 1998, 134 p.


Machado de Assis’ Library: Drama and Deception in the Rise of Brazilian Realism

Berkeley: University of California 1999, 32 p.


Machado de Assis, o romance com pessoas

São Paulo: Nankin/Edusp, University of São Paulo Press 2008, 296 p.



Participation in anthologies:

Brésil 25 – 2000-2015

France: Métailié 2015


Cuentos en tránsito. Antología de narrativa brasileña

Argentina: Alfaguara 2014, 225 p.