Before his first Brazilian sojourn in 1936, Stefan Zweig – the Viennese author who enjoyed fame as the most widely translated writer in the world between the two world wars – deemed the South American country 'terra incognita in the cultural sense'. Once it had also been unknown in the geographical sense, this 'land that one should hardly call a country anymore, but rather a continent', as Zweig writes in Brazil (1941). 'There I was confronted not only with one of the most magnificent landscapes on earth – that unique combination of sea and mountains, city and tropical nature – but also with a completely new kind of civilization.'
The cultural and mineral wealth of the country, along with its vast diversities, impressed Zweig so much that he made plans to return for a prolonged visit. History intervened. First came the Spanish Civil War, in 1936. Two years later, Zweig's native Austria fell, followed by Poland. He made plans to leave 'suicidal Europe': 'I more and more passionately wished to escape for a time from a world that was destroying itself, into one that was peacefully and creatively building,' he writes. Zweig returned to Brazil, living there until his death in early 1942.