Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the category “Book reviews”

Mondo Kane – a Superb book!

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Mondo Kane is a mixture of traditional gangster thrillers, contemporary British street culture, ancient native american wisdom and Brazil. These four apparently incompatible elements are fused into a brilliant, daring and innovative way by George Gould in this superb book.

Although the narrative is filled with testosterone and may seem somewhat brute, specially in the beginning, the author surprises the reader with very clever insights based on the wisdom of the Lakota Native Americans, more specifically the one revealed by the legendary shaman/warrior Black Elk. With this, the book dissects the present day gangster mentality, which most western males have come across at some point or another in their life, shining a fascinating spiritual light onto this subculture.
There is also a very lively and precise description of the feel of Brazil and the mentality of its people in the story’s background which, together with the brutality of some parts, transports the reader to a disconcerting Tarantino-like universe.
Overall, Mondo Kane is a very enjoyable roller coaster, sometimes like a comic book, sometimes like a Hollywood action film it has several unexpected twists. Its interesting philosophical considerations about alienation in the western world are also noteworthy. This book has the potential of becoming a huge best seller or a blockbuster film. It is a shame Amazon does not provide more stars to give.

Review of Brazil – The Epic Novel

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Brazil is an epic 800-page historical novel written in English by Errol Lincoln Uys, a South African author based in the US. Unusual as this may seem, the book amazes the reader by the depth of the research put into it, by the skilful writing and by the creativity used in blending history with storytelling. The way the author manages to condense five hundred years of history in just one book is downright amazing. The story orbits around the tale of two families, one in Pernambuco, in the Northeast of Brazil, and the other one in São Paulo. In parallel, and sometimes interwoven by fate, both dynasties participate directly in events that would shape the country. Despite the book’s length, at no point does it get boring; Uys’ obvious fascination and passion for the subject ensure that the read is a gripping roller coaster. Its characters are very “alive” and adventurous, providing a rich insight into how life was during the many phases of Brazil’s past in its many different regions.

Beyond its great entertainment value, Brazil is also a great resource for those studying the country’s history. I learned a lot by reading this book; it increased my knowledge and understanding of the Paraguay war, the pre-Portuguese indigenous practices as well as the life of Antonho Conselheiro, and the war of Canudos. Uys’ book has also made the names of many streets of Rio de Janeiro – and throughout Brazil – come alive to me. These small examples and many others have made it clear that Brazil is one of the best, if not the best, historical novel about the country written by a non-Brazilian. To it’s great advantage the book has a refreshing neutrality and an objectivity which is sometimes difficult to find with Brazilian historians.

In addition to my praise and awe I will put forward the following remarks: History is a slippery subject and the vastness of Brazil and the complexity of its past may cause academic objections regarding the choices of the Uys’ focus. Other historians would – and have – focused on other events and regions to describe Brazil’s past, however one must recognize that any author undertaking such an enormous task would attract similar comments. In my case, the privileging of historical events and of big names over a more “sociological” and a more the “man-in-the street” perspective caused some reflection. Another point that stuck out was that most characters in the book either belong to the powerful and wealthy elite or belong to the very poor and oppressed layers of the Brazilian society – a necessary expedient for this kind of narrative, but also a decision that may have caused a certain “flatness” in some personalities. These choices may also lead to the misunderstanding of the dynamics of some sectors of the country’s population although by no means do they diminish the book’s brilliance.

Brazilian history is widely unknown throughout the English-speaking world. Perhaps because of this, as a Bandeirante, or an explorer/settler, conquering the unexplored vastness of the country’s fascinating past, Uys has produced a fascinating, cinematographic and ground breaking piece of work. The fact that he is not Brazilian and that he wrote this book in English has allowed for a lightness and for a creativity that one normally does not find in similar books written in Portuguese by Brazilian authors. Uys’ historical novel is undoubtedly a trustful and enjoyable portal for anyone – beginner or advanced – seeking to understand Brazil and to know its past. Brazil is also a great read for those who simply want to enjoy a great book and I can see it becoming a top rated TV series. I hope it does. Anyhow, this is a definite five star book!

Review of Fred’s Diaries 1981

fredFred’s Diaries 1981, proves that reality is usually more interesting than fiction. This book features the author – who could be anyone’s friend – travelling through Asia in his mid twenties and experiencing a series of adventures that test his resilient and likable character. The aim of the book, however, is not about getting into the author’s mind, it is a diary and, because of this format, it brings to life the subculture of young western – Australian and New Zealanders included in the definition – travelers/adventurers crossing Asia in the early eighties. Like other travelers, Fred is out there to enjoy freedom and the relative wealth that his European currency provides him. However, in the process, what he ends up discovering is himself during his 6 month existence beyond the walls of western civilization.

Although the reader enters in contact with the surroundings and its people through his foreign eyes it does not make the experience less fascinating and vivid. On the contrary, Fred’s heart-felt awe towards  the beauty and the intensity  of the place, his appetite for living the adventure, the mishaps and his clear narrative “takes you there” allowing  you to re-live the experience. The feeling is as if these could have been your own diaries, had you been lucky (or unlucky) enough to have had the same conditions in that time and place.

The diaries are also a kind of a time capsule, in its pages we are thrown back to an era with no internet , with no religious fanaticism, with better preserved local cultures and with “ganja” being  used generously among the westerners as a way of getting close to like-minded people. As the author warns in the book’s preface, if you have an issue with Cannabis perhaps this is not the book for you. As for me I confess to have felt a bit of envy, Fred consumes some of the finest stuff the planet can provide. The book is an excellent read, it grabbed my attention and I was always wondering what would happen next. As a non-Anglo Saxon reader, what kept on coming to mind as the author takes decisions I would never have taken and as he relates to people in a way I would never do was  The Who’s song “Behind Blue Eyes”. A must read for all those who lived that era or who in some way relate to it.

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