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Category Archive for 'Brazil'

Here author Adriana Lisboa recreates the perennial search for “family” and “home” by a thirteen-year-old girl who has left Rio de Janeiro, in search of her biological father in the United States, following the death of her mother. In starkly realistic and highly descriptive language, the life of Evangelina, known as Vanja, opens and shuts like the “crow-blue mussel shells” she remembers so vividly from Copacabana Beach in Rio. When Vanja arrives in Lakewood, Colorado, where her legal father lives, she discovers a place that is completely alien in terms of weather, wind, elevation, and culture. Though her beloved sea is over a thousand miles away, Vanja takes some comfort in seeing the “shell-blue crows” which fly over Denver – new birds that she sees in the open spaces and unfamiliar trees of her new home, birds that are independent, resourceful, and long-lived, even within this urban setting. Her father Fernando is also “displaced,” having lived most of his life in Brazil, before coming to Denver from which he has never returned “home,” and her neighbor, nine-year-old Carlos is an undocumented resident from El Salvador. Together they set off on a road trip for information about Vanja’s biological father, a trip that leads to some philosophical conclusions about time, place, memory, and what is important in life.

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The novel’s “perfect crime” takes place in 1913, at the House of Swaps, once the estate of the Marquise of Santos, but currently owned by Polish Doctor Miroslav Zmuda, who uses it as a gynecological medical clinic during the day. At night, however, it becomes the city’s most exceptional brothel, a place where men rent the services of prostitutes dressed as nurses and where women, too, may rent the services of men. A rumored secret tunnel connects these premises to the palace which belonged to Emperor Pedro I in the early nineteenth century. On June 13, however, a murder takes place at the brothel, involving the personal Secretary to the President, who has been a client of Fortunata, and who has disappeared. Almost immediately after these introductory scenes, the author begins his promised digressions into the city’s past history, which he presents out of chronological order, with stories ranging from the sixteenth century to the present – “the concept of city is independent of the concept of time.” Back and forth the narrative rambles, adding small bits to the story of the murder and much more information about the history of the city. Eventually, the author begins tackling sociological issues, discussing adultery as a cultural characteristic. The interruptions in the main story can become frustrating, and the book appears to have been written for a super-macho male audience, without considering the large number of women who may be interested in the story.

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In her final novel, Brazilian novelist/poet Clarice Lispector (1920 – 1977) writes an eerie, almost supernatural tale of Macabea, a nineteen-year-old woman almost totally devoid of personality, opinion, thoughts, and even feelings. Her story is being told by Roderigo S.M., a writer, similarly isolated, without a long-term idea of what he wants to write, though he says, as he begins the story, that he has “glimpsed in the air the feeling of perdition on the face of a northeastern girl [Macabea].” He tells the reader that his story, whatever it will be, will be both exterior and explicit in style but will contain secrets. He will also have no pity, and he wants the story to be cold. “This isn’t just narrative, it’s above all primary life that breathes, breathes, breathes,” he states. When Macabea arrives in Rio, where she lives with several other girls, she never contemplates her future or thinks much about it at all. “Did she feel she was living for nothing? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so,” the narrator muses. A trip to a fortune teller and its aftermath eventually provide the turning point of the novel. Irony builds upon irony as the author explores who we are, how we know, how we fit into the grand scheme of life, and ultimately, whether there actually is any “grand scheme.” In this odd but peculiarly thought-provoking novel, the reader will often be as confused and conflicted as the narrator, but the book may be unique in its subject matter and approach to writing, and after a slow start, I became enchanted with it.

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Living in the jungle of Brazil, a group of American researchers, working for a pharmaceutical company, is trying to complete their long research project on a dramatic rainforest discovery. The leader of the project is Dr. Annick Swenson, a tough and disciplined seventy-three-year-old woman who has not left Brazil for over a decade. Though the pharmaceutical company is paying all the expenses, no one can find out the status of the project–the last person sent to check on it, Anders Eckman, shortly after his arrival at the camp. When word of Eckman’s death reaches the company, the president decides that someone must return to find out what is happening at the lab. Marina Singh, a single woman in her forties, has shared an office with Anders Eckman and knows Dr, Swenson, and she is the person to make a follow-up trip to the jungle. Patchett raises many questions about what drives those who give up virtually everything for pure science, questioning how much is done from idealism, how much from naivete, and how much for personal gain. The action speeds along on the strength of a fast-paced narrative full of suspense. Expected to be one of the big, popular sellers of summer, 2011.

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Raised in Brazil, Japan, and the UK, Scudamore sets this novel in Sao Paulo, a city he obviously knows well, revealing his youthful enthusiasm for life, his sharp eye for injustice, and his (perhaps naive) hope for the future in a tale which follows the life of Ludo dos Santos from his childhood till about age twenty-seven. Ludo and his mother, a cook, had been plucked from Heliopolis, the largest favela (slum) in Sao Paulo, and established permanently at the weekend farm to which Zeno “Ze” Generoso, the fabulously wealthy owner of a chain of supermarkets, his British wife Rebecca, and his daughter Melissa travel on weekends. Telling Ludo’s story through flashbacks and foreshadowings of things to come in the future, Scudamore quickly establishes the atmosphere and the dramatic contrasts between the lives of the poor and those of the rich in a city with virtually no middle class. Caught between the world of the favela, which he does not remember, and the world of the rich, to which he feels he does not really belong, Ludo is unsure of his place in the world.

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