Country Focus: Brazil (Brasil in Portuguese)
by Frances de Pontes Peebles (Brazilian-American)
Originally published: Harper-Collins, 2008.
My edition: Harper Perennial, 2009. 641 pgs.
Acclaim: Winner of the “Elle’s Lettres” Fiction Grand Prix; Winner of the Friends of American Writers Award for Fiction
Genre: Historical Fiction
Time period: 1928-1935
Summary: The Seamstress‘s narration alternates between Emília and Luzia, sisters and excellent seamstresses . Tall, bold and hampered by a bum arm, Luzia makes a poor candidate for marriage. A band of cangaceiros, Brazil’s scrubland outlaws, abduct Luzia, who endures and then excels in her new environment. Emília dreams of romance and lives for the few small luxuries within her reach: perfumed soap and Fon Fon magazine. Reality does not live up to her expectations when she marries and moves to the coastal city of Recífe. To fill her time, Emília starts a fashion atelier and dives into humanitarian work. The two sisters keep track of each by reading stories about each other in the newspaper: Emília appears regularly in the society section; Luzia, known only by her nickname “The Seamstress” merits front page news for murder.
After the sixth surveyor’s funeral, journalists speculated that the Seamstress, not the Hawk, had ordered the decapitations. She was merciless, the papers said. She had no shame. Emília had heard this expression many times before. Back in Taquaritinga, when she wore heeled shoes, or rouged her face, or when she and Degas took unchaperoned walks during their brief courtship, Emília heard people whisper about her: That girl has no shame! Shame was admirable in a woman.
How The Seamstress reflects Brazil:
Locations: the rural mountain village of Taquaritinga do Norte, the caatinga scrubland, the ocean-side city of Recífe (all three in northeastern Brazil)
Historical events: the impact of America’s 1929 stock market crash, called “the crisis” in Brazil; the revolution of 1930; the drought of 1932
Portuguese language: a few words and phrases
Food: intriging and supposedly accurate descriptions of the vittles that the cangaceiros survived on in the scrubland (xique-xique cactus juice; dried beef covered in green film)
Culture: the lifestyle of the cangaceiros; phrenology; the rule-laden and repressive social structure of the Brazilian elite; women’s suffrage; the landing of the Graf Zeppelin in Recífe
Would I read another book by Peebles: Yes!
In my book, or what Brazil means to me and maybe you, too:
The Amazon. Here are some amazing facts:
The Amazon rainforest stretches over 57% of Brazil. Brazil is by far the most biodiverse country on Earth, with more than 56,000 plant, 1,700 bird, 695 amphibian, 578 mammal and 651 reptile species.
Brazil’s 1988 constitution set aside approximately a quarter of the Amazonian rainforest for native inhabitants. 60% of Brazil’s indigenous population live on these reserves.
The number one cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon? Cattle ranching. In February 2009, cattle ranches covered 214,000 square miles – that’s more land area than France!
Pelé. Here’s why Pelé kicks ass:
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known worldwide as Pelé, still ranks as the greatest soccer player of all time. His combination of tactical genius, speed and technique made him an international superstar. He and his Brazilian teammates won three FIFA World Cups ™, in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
Pelé dedicated his 1,000th professional goal – scored on November 19, 1969 – to children living in Brazilian slums. By the end of his career, he had racked up 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.
Since retiring in 1977, Pelé served as ambassador for the UN and UNICEF. He said, “Every kid in the world who plays football wants to be Pele, which means I have the responsibility of showing them how to be a footballer, but also how to be a man.”
“Copacabana.” Music and beaches and Star Wars pastiches…
An area of Rio de Janeiro renowned for its famous beach, Copacabana got its name from the Virgen de Copacabana, the patron saint of Bolivia whose replica graces a local chapel.
Barry Manilow’s 1978 hit song “Copacabana” refers to the eponymous New York City nightclub that hosted dozens of top performers in its heyday. Closed since 2007, the Copa will reopen on July 4, 2011.
“Music and blasters and old Jedi masters…” (click here for a Star Wars-themed version of “Copacabana”).
Christ the Redeemer statue. Here’s why you should put your hands up:
Completed in 1931, Christ the Redeemer stands atop 2,300 ft Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro’s Tijuca Forest National Park. A 360 degree view of Rio awaits visitors, who can take a train to the base or climb the 220 stairs.
Christ Almighty! He’s hewn from reinforced concrete and soapstone and measures out to 130 ft tall (shorter than the 305 ft Statue of Liberty) with a 92 ft armspan.
Tijuca Forest National Park is the largest urban forest in the world. Major Manuel Gomes Archer, along with six slaves, hand-planted all 12.4 square miles of rainforest in the late 1800s. Rumor has it that the task only took 13 years.
City of God. Here’s why you should go slumming:
The 2002 movie City of God chronicles the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus favela (slum) of Rio de Janeiro during the late 1960s – early 1980s.
One-time slum resident Paulo Lins wrote the 1997 novel Cidade de Deus on which the movie is based. Lins says that he pulled the story out of “10 years of research and 30 years of life experience.”
Rio de Janeiro will host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. In anticipation of international media attention, officials are finally attempting (after years of turning a blind eye) to eliminate the drug gangs that have long ruled the city’s favelas.
Up next: The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Spain)