Errol Lincoln Uys is the author of the epic historical novel, Brazil, and non-fiction Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression, which Amazon’s History Editor picked as one of the 10 Best Books of 1999.
Growing up in South Africa, Uys (pronounced ‘Ace’) was ten when he penned his first novella, Revenge, on the back of stock certificates tossed out by his mother. His journey to a writing career was anything but conventional: He sold teddy bears and hula hoops on the streets of Johannesburg, worked at a dolls’ hospital, ran a missing persons’ bureau, made cane furniture, and spent two years as an law clerk – all before the age of 21.
When he joined the Johannesburg Star, his first published article was an op-ed piece, Happiness is an Unprejudiced Mind. His newspaper and magazine career spanned three continents. He was editor of the Cape Town edition of Post, South Africa’s biggest weekly; he pounded the streets of South-East London, as chief reporter for the Mercury. Recruited by Reader’s Digest, he returned to his birthplace to found and become editor-in-chief of the Digest’s South African edition.
A move to the Digest’s U.S. headquarters at Pleasantville led to a two-year assignment with James A. Michener on his South African novel, The Covenant. Commenting on their work together, Michener said: “Uys showed such a mastery and predilection for plotting that again and again he came up with dazzling ideas that again and again attracted my attention. I am no good at plotting, hold it to be almost an excrescence, and pay far too little attention to it, so that Uys's bold suggestions were often appreciated. He had the capacity and willingness to catch an idea and run with it in his own direction, often proposing something so far from my intention that I was bedazzled.”
Uys’s contribution to The Covenant went beyond plotting and editing, as Michener has acknowledged: “Every excerpt, every page you have written for my book shows that you are a writer with a superb use of the English language, a remarkable vocabulary and a very special turn of phrase…You unquestionably have the talent to write almost anything you direct your attention to. You are a great researcher, as your copious notes prior to our work sessions together indicated. And you know how to put words together most skillfully as your work on the manuscript proved.”
Uys devoted five years to the writing of Brazil. He spent a year on his research in libraries in the U.S. and Europe. He traveled extensively in Portugal and Brazil, where he journeyed 15,000 miles, almost exclusively by bus. He returned to the seaside town of Scituate, Massachusetts to write his epic, the original manuscript penned by hand and reaching a staggering 750,000 words.
First published in the U.S. by Simon and Schuster, Brazil went on to international acclaim in France, where it was a best-seller (La Forteresse Verte,) Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Israel, United Kingdom and other lands. In Brazil, one of the country’s most esteemed critics, Professor Wilson Martins marveled at Uys’s achievement:
“Uys has accomplished what no Brazilian author from José de Alencar to Jorge Amado was able to do. He is the first to write our national epic in all its decisive episodes, from the indigenous civilization and the El Dorado myth, everything converging like the segments of a rose window to that reborn and metamorphosed myth that is Brasilia.
“He is the first outsider to see us with total honesty and sympathy and full empathy with the decisive moments in our history and their spiritual meaning. Descriptions like those of the war with Paraguay are unsurpassed in our literature and evoke the great passages of War and Peace.” (Jornal do Brasil)
Edson Nery da Fonseca of the renowned Joaquim Nabuco Institute in Recife noted:
“Brazil shows the juxtaposition of sensual/brutal Brazil. It is amazingly on target not only in the historical sense but also insightful for the complex modern Brazil, principally the extended family. A theme vividly illustrated in the first chapters and carried throughout the novel.
“In this way you follow Professor Gilberto Freyre's view about the importance of the patriarchal family in Brazil, contrasted with the importance of the Church and of the State in other Latin American countries. Professor Freyre (Masters and Slaves, Casa Grande e Senzala) supposed that you perhaps had got a jornal intime of some Brazilian family not yet published. Is he right?”
To which Uys responded: “I had no private journal of a Brazilian family, only a passion to tell the remarkable story of Brazil and its people -- to look beyond cliché’s and stereotypes and see and ‘feel’ Brazil at ground level.”
The new edition of Brazil has an afterword which brings the multi-generational family saga of the Cavalcantis and the da Silvas up to April 2000 - the original work ended at the inauguration of Brasilia in 1960. Linked to the eBook is a unique online guide with more than 200 images and maps that provide an indispensable companion to a fictional journey through 500 years of South American history.
Uys’s non-fiction book, Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression tells the story of a quarter million teenage hoboes roaming America in the 1930s. Drawing primarily on letters and oral histories of three thousand men and women who hopped freight trains Riding the Rails brings to life a neglected saga of America in the 1930s.
Now a United States citizen, Uys lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife, Janette, whom he met in a Johannesburg park, when he was six years old and not quite ready to begin selling teddy bears!