The War of the End of the World

The War of the End of the World - Helen R. Lane, Mario Vargas Llosa

I find it very difficult to put into words my thoughts on this book. This is a historical novel based on the peasant revolt that took place in Brazil in the late 19th century when a renegade priest and his followers took over an abandoned estate in Canudos and established a community that refused to recognize the authority of the newly established republic, the old catholic church or civil marriages. Money was outlawed. There could be no taxation, census taking, marriage or ownership of property in this new community. With the exception of former tax collectors, Freemasons or men who had worn the uniform of the republic all were welcomed, given a plot of land for their home and to farm. Thousands of former bandits, slaves, prostitutes, beggars and misfits of society flocked to Canudos where they were not only welcomed but made to feel human for the first time in many of their lives. This priest who they called The Counselor, talked to all with dignity and in the eyes of the peasants became a saint that they loved, protected and followed as he led.

This was a time when the new republic was still on shaky footing with the large landowners, who were mostly Monarchists, still in opposition to the new government. Agents for the new government see Canudos as the perfect rallying cry for the country and accuse them of being agents of a foreign power in league with the Monarchists. As can be readily imagined, the government of the republic decided to wipe this community out before this type of revolt took root in other parts of Brazil and seriously undermined their central control. What followed was an epic battle where tens of thousands of republic soldiers fought the renegades of Canudos, losing thousands of their soldiers to a ragtag group of defenders of Canudos before finally prevailing.

The story is told from the perspective of several points of view, residents of Canudos, believers and people with nothing making the pilgrimage to this haven, the landowners who were seeing their rich haciendas burned down and their workers leaving for Canudos, newspaper writers who followed the soldiers, government leaders and various other voices. We hear the resident of Canudos talk of their plans to defend themselves, to waylay supplies on their way to the republic soldiers, the co-operation of all and the love and respect they exhibited to one another. We hear from the soldiers about the humiliation of losing so many, the mutilations performed on the soldiers and the despair in the souls of the soldiers.

This was an enormous undertaking and the writer to his credit wrote an epic masterpiece that left me in awe and wanting to find out more from this period of Brazil’s history. This is not a book for everyone, many will give up within the first 100 pages, but if you stay with it you’ll be rewarded richly. I highly recommend.


Originally published on