Joao Guimarães Rosa was born in the small town of Cordisburgo, in the Brazilian province of Minas Gerais. Born on June 27th, 1908, he was the first of six children. As a young child, Guimarães Rosa was a talented boy. By the age of seven he had taught himself French. Many other languages followed. He later stated that he knew how to speak Portuguese, German, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Esperanto, and some Russian.
In 1925, at the age of 16, he applied to the College of Medicine of Minas Gerais University. Upon graduating, a few years later, he began his medical practice in the local urban village Itaguara in the state of Minas Gerais, where he stayed for two years. In this village, it is said that Guimarães Rosa formed his first impressions of sertão (the semi-arid Brazilian outback) which served as an inspiration to many of his great novels. Once he took the examination to become a civil servant, he went to Barbacena to be a physician in the 9th Armed Battalion in 1933. Soon thereafter, in 1938, he served his first tour as a diplomat and was nominated as Associate Consul in Hamburg, Germany, where he met Aracy Moebius de Carvalho, the Chief of the Passport Section.
They married and, understanding the dangers persecuted people faced, they both began providing passports for the Jews to enter Brazil. In 1942, when Brazil broke its relations with Germany, Guimarães Rosa was taken to Baden-Baden concentration camp for forging passports for Jews. He served 4 months in the concentration camp until he was freed in exchange of German diplomats. Soon thereafter he went back to Brazil to begin his writing career.
He wrote the novel Grande Sertão: Veredas (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands), where he had predicted his own death. The mystery of his passing and his work will never be deciphered. Guimarães Rosa died at the height of his diplomatic and literary career. He was only 59.