Armchair Traveler: 5 Must-Read Books that Define Brazil
Once, when fewer people traveled abroad, many had to be content as armchair travelers. Tales of foreign places and exotic lands sold very well, and in them, my parents and grandparents could export themselves all over the world, a sort of literary beaming up. Books are still the best way into the feel of a country, the emotions of a people, the imaginations, the dreams, the terrors.
Here are my picks for five great reads that will transport you to Brazil — perfectly timed, as all eyes are on the country, currently on display with the 2014 World Cup. These books deliver an insider’s look at this vast country, geographically bigger than the U.S., wildly diverse in its culture, economy, and population and best accessed (on the ground or in your armchair) by writers — and readers — with a passion for it.
"Futebol, Soccer, the Brazilian Way" by Alex Bellos
When I travel, the books I read are almost always fiction because novels take you into the guts of a country. But Alex Bellos’ non-fiction tome about football (soccer to us) is a must-read. A foreign correspondent, he attended his first match at Rio’s Macarana, the spiritual home of “Brazilian-ergo world-football.” Bellos says that we love Brazil and its game because its fans are exuberant, its style graceful, and because stars are known by their first names, as if they were friends. In Brazil, football is much more than a sport; it is life itself, a game about the heart and soul of the country, its history, its people.
In his book, Bellos also writes of the Brazilian football disapora; in a country with thousands of players, many export themselves abroad to place as remote as the Faroe Islands. He also reveals what is special about Brazilian style of play that is often described in musical terms. Music and football: Brazil’s great art forms.
"City of God" by Paulo Lins and Alison Entrekin
Set in the most notorious of Rio’s slums, or favelas, known as Cidade de Deus, this novel brilliantly recreates Brazil’s dark side, a world ruled by gangs, drugs, money, and brutality. Paulo Lins’ semi-autobiographical novel follows the lives of three boys — Squirt, Hellraiser and Hammer — from innocent childhood in the 1960s to the bloody gang wars of the 1980s. Based on his own experiences growing up, and years of research, Lins shows a world of poverty and violence with humor and compassion in a novel that encapsulates the lives of the dispossessed who live on the fringes of Brazilian society.