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The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas became a TikTok trend, but do you know the book?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Recently, writer, podcaster, and tiktoker Courtney Henning Novak (@courtneyhenningnovak) shared a milestone on her “Read Around The World” project. This began back in November 2023, when she decided to read one book by one author from every country in the world in alphabetical order. Months later, in late May, she made it to Brazil and picked up the famous The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis


I have a hundred pages left of The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Machado de Assis and this is already my favorite book. End of discussion. I do not care if the last hundred pages is just the word “banana” printed 10,000 times. Best. Book. EVER. #readaroundtheworld #booktok

♬ original sound – Courtney Henning Novak

In her video, she gushes about how the book is “the best book that’s ever been written” and how it made her want to learn Portuguese to read the original version. Shortly after it was published, the video gained tons of attention, mainly from Brazilian users amazed at her reaction, praising Machado de Assis and recommending other great Brazilian classics. 

And even though she has moved on and finished her B’s list, she hasn’t quite moved on from Machado de Assis and plans on reading Dom Casmurro next.


Replying to @Cinthya Bittencourt Brazilian bookworm peer pressure is definitely a thing, and I’m not ashamed to succumb. #booktok #sidequest #Brazil #domcasmurro

♬ original sound – Courtney Henning Novak

In a not-so-unlike coincidence, the Brazilian side of TikTok saw a wave of The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas-related memes. Basically, people are reading the opening of the book (which is dark and somber) with funny intonations and in different accents from all over the country. 

In the opening, Brás Cubas, the main character, dedicates his book: “To the worm who first gnawed on the cold flesh of my corpse, I dedicate with fond remembrance these Posthumous Memoirs”. And this is the audio that has been turned into a meme. 

It’s all fun and games, but what is the book about? And how has it stayed relevant for 143 years and counting? 


Brás Cubas, the protagonist and a dead man, tells his life story to the reader, highlighting his mistakes and failed romantic relationships. From beyond the grave, he narrates it all in first person and can reflect about society more freely. 

He kicks things off by telling the reader how he died (very suiting isn’t it?) and then going back to his family and early childhood. I won’t go into too many details about the plot for two main reasons: 1) it would be nearly impossible to compress all of the novel in a few short sentences and 2) if you haven’t read it before, you really should give it a go. And, who knows, you may find yourself enjoying it as much as Courtney Henning Novak. 

However, I’ll leave you with this: within these 143-year-old pages, you will find that Machado questions a great deal of the beliefs, opinions, and prejudices that were around at the time and made up a big part of Brazil’s cultural scene. All that happening in the background of a man sharing his life’s events with the reader. 


If you’ve been brought up by the Brazilian school system, chances are you’ve heard not only about The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas but also Machado de Assis, many – and I mean, many – times. For the uninitiated, you need to know that Machado is considered one of Brazil’s most prolific and important authors of all time. 

Not only was he a black writer in a slavery context, but he was also extremely critical of this system and many others that were in place at the time in his works. He shrouds his harsh criticism of society in an amusing combination of sarcasm and irony while creating an innovative and unique literary style (can you tell that I’m a fan?) 

Everything, from the traits Machado de Assis, applies to the characters, to the words he uses to describe places and situations, and the way the narrator delivers them: it all plays a role in delivering the message. To phrase it differently, if you are reading any of his works, leave no stone – better yet, leave no word – unturned. 

That is, personally, part of the appeal of Machado’s work. It requires the reader’s involvement to let its true meaning show. That is to say, you could simply read The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas as a story that goes from point A to point B, but if you dig a little deeper (let’s be honest, a lot deeper) you’ll find an enormous amount of new meanings.

The effort you need to put into truly understanding Machado de Assis goes so far as to re-read the same text more than once. But don’t let that scare you, despite being challenging, this experience is extremely rewarding. 

Something that has helped me a lot is having someone who can make things a bit easier to understand. Whether it be a literature professor that can give you a hand with the language and the sarcasm, or a video essay that introduces the book in a more beginner-friendly way. 


The first time the book was translated into english was in 1952, under the title Epitaph of a Small Winner. 45 years later, Gregory Rabassa published another translation and gave it the title The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, which is a lot closer to the original one. More recently, in 2020, two new versions were made available, something that drew a lot of attention to the novel. 

And Courtney Henning Novak wasn’t the first person to shine a light upon Machado de Assis’ great work. In 2011, filmmaker Woody Allen said in an article in The Guardian that Epitaph of a Small Winner, as it was called at the time, was one of his favorite books. 


The article above was edited by Isabelle Bignardi.

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Fernanda Tsukase

Casper Libero '25

Journalism student very interested in music, literature and international politics :) Instagram: @mikitsukase https://linktr.ee/fernanda_miki_tsukase