WITH anticipation of this year’s Olympics now on everyone’s lips it’s hardly surprising that the games’ host, Brazil, is attracting more than its usual share of international attention.
Through a series of chapters profiling specific locations and events, Fran Bryson offers a colourful glimpse into the world’s fourth-largest nation, second only to Nigeria for its population of people of African heritage. (Approximately 100 million modern-day Brazilians are descended at least in part from slaves.)
Bryson draws comparisons between the histories, cultures and geographies of Australia and Brazil, arranging her observations – formed during repeat visits over many years – by region.
In lively, entertaining and at-times highly humorous detail she describes Easter passion plays performed by telenovela (soap opera) stars in Nova Jerusalém; the rise and then decline of the rubber industry around Xapuri in the upper Amazon Basin; the pedestrian-unfriendly but eyecatching architecture of the capital, Brasília; and the terror generated by taking public transport (“It can be curiously liberating travelling at such speeds that if something goes wrong, you know you won’t survive”). She relates tales of bushrangers’ exploits in the badlands of Piranhas, where the severed heads of 11 outlaws were arranged and photographed on the cloth-covered front steps of the local town hall, and remembers the eight young men and boys shot and killed by rogue police in the Candelária massacre of homeless people in Rio de Janeiro in 1993.
She also examines the at-times-uneasy marriage of Catholicism and African spiritualism that has produced in Brazil a unique religious landscape.
Along the way Bryson notes that Tasmania’s last Aborigines have not in fact died out but are alive and well in the small island communities of Bass Strait – an unexpected inclusion in a book about Brazil but one that in this instance feels natural.