A Chapter of Hats, By Machado de Assis

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The Independent Culture

Slyly comic, full of surprises, always hinting at more than they quite say, these 20 bewitching stories from Brazil's 19th-century master (1839-1908) will bring new admirers to a writer who – despite his European links – has a voice all his own.

Doubles and disguises fill deftly witty yarns (translated by John Gledson) of an era in Brazil when drawing-room politesse rubs against the legacy of slavery and the cheapness of life.

These men and, especially, women survive by ironic performance, even marrying – like a dying bride – on the brink of the grave. "Call her a monster if you like, but say she was divine too."