Posted on | June 18, 2010 | 7 Comments
Ludo, born in the favela of Heliopolis (a shantytown), is “lucky.” He’s escaped a life of squalor, on being formally adopted by the extremely rich Carnicelli family, who have also hired his mother as a cook in their farmhouse.
When she had nothing but a handful of beans to her name, the tough nugget of pride at her core sustained her. Then along came Ze and Rebecca, and took away that pride, replacing it with impotent gratitude. Like the mythological pelican slashing open her breast to sustain her young, my mother fed me her blood, and she took a mortal blow for me in the process.
Now in his mid-to-late twenties, Ludo reflects on life, the city he lives in, and his rags-to-riches story, which puts him in the awkward role of supposedly knowing both worlds : the squalor and the wealth, and trying to figure out where he belongs.
He’s in love with his adopted sister (who he sleeps with occasionally, despite her being married), thinks his job (in advertising) is completely pointless and is mostly passive about most things – almost to the point of the passiveness being criminal! However, he’s an insightful narrator, who sometimes has you nod in agreement and sometimes, just chuckle.
Practise your confidence tricks on the street and you risk getting shot by trigger-happy security guards; do it in the office and you get put on the board.
The other primary character, in my opinion, is Sao Paulo itself. The epigraph of this novel is a quote by Marlene Dietrich: Rio is a beauty. But Sao Paulo – Sao Paulo is a city. From a social perspective, the class divide that’s shown, the general acceptance of it by the public, and the dignity with which the shantytown dwellers are portrayed makes the novel so much more colourful. Ze (Ludo’s adoptive father) has not stepped on the grounds of the city for fifteen years, as his helicopter is his only mode of transportation, as nobody who’s anybody gets driven to work in the city these days.
And then of course, you have the ambience of the Brazilian city, which is captured, almost to perfection:
Since the city took off in the nineteenth century, wave after wave of developers have ripped through it, obliterating what lies in their path. But occasionally, the past remains in isolated fragments that seem as if they have escaped the halo of a nuclear explosion.
The novel is fast-paced, and incredibly easy to read. It’s not a translation, and Scudamore, in my opinion, has done an amazing job of making the book sound “Brazilian” enough, without anglicising the content overtly – a massive bonus! The other thing that I quite liked about this book was that each of the chapter headings reference food, be it Mango or Orange Juice; Crab Linguine or Feiojada. The food referenced in the chapter heading invariably appears in the chapter, and also plays a role in defining both: the social and cultural aspects of the city.
This is the first book I’ve read, that’s based in Brazil, and I’d love to read more books set in Latin America. Do you have any recommendations? Possibly not a rags-to-riches story (although, I did read an interesting fact : the President of Brazil was buffing shoes and selling peanuts on the streets when he was ten years old! It’s a city where the rags-to-riches story aren’t always only a fairy-tale!), as I’ve read a fair few them in the recent past?