Brazil’s leading literary theorist discusses the novel whose formal innovations trace the emergence of the ganglands of the neo-favela in Rio de Janeiro today—a world away from the now etiolated recipes of magical realism.
CITY OF GOD
The ‘City of God’—there is no irony in the name—is a slum of some 200,000 inhabitants on the western edge of Rio de Janeiro. It is famous for the unending shoot-outs there between drug gangs and police—an uncontrollable, escalating war, emblematic in various ways of wider social developments in Brazil. Five years ago, a remarkable novel depicting the life of the place appeared. Its author, Paulo Lins, was born in 1958 in Estácio, a black district of Rio, close to the docks; after the disastrous floods of 1966 he was rehoused with his family in the City of God. This development scheme—product of bungled planning by Carlos Lacerda, the notoriously reactionary governor of the times—was still quite new. Lins went to school there, and carried on living in the favela while he studied at the university. He knew the local gangsters—delinquents he had grown up with; and they came to trust him as someone who could mediate with the community on their behalf.
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