Bishop, Elizabeth. One Art. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1995. America’s poet laureate, Elizabeth Bishop was also a steadfast and elegant letter writer. On a South American cruise, Bishop stopped off in Rio de Janeiro, fell ill after eating a cashew fruit, and was nursed back to health by Lota Macedo Soares, a wealthy and very clever Carioca with whom she fell in love. The subsequent years she spent in Brazil are chronicled with sharpness and affection in the letters published in this tome.
Haddad, Annette, and Scott Doggett (eds). Travelers’ Tales Brazil: True Stories. New York: Travelers’ Tales Guides, 2004. This great collection of travel essays—penned by a variety of writers and excerpted from books and magazines—offers a multifaceted view of Brazil through many lenses.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques. New York: Penguin, 1992. The famous French anthropologist supposedly hated traveling and explorers, but quickly changed his mind when he traveled to Brazil in the 1930s and found himself face to face with the fascinating Indian groups of the Amazon Basin. Lévi-Strauss’s prose offers an engaging mixture of ethnographic description and autobiographical impressions.
Page, P. K. Brazilian Journal. Toronto: L. & O. Dennys, 1987. In the 1950s, Canadian poet P. K. Page found herself in Rio when her husband became Canada’s ambassador to Brazil. Despite bouts of cultural shock, Page fell in love with Brazil. Her descriptions of Rio’s glamorous last days as the nation’s capital are simple, lyrical, and ultimately moving.
Wallace, Alfred Russel. A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and the Rio Negro. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006. Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was both a colleague and rival of Charles Darwin. Both men visited Brazil in the mid-19th century, but Wallace chose to slash (and shoot) his way through the Amazon Basin, taking minute and highly evocative notes of all the exotica that crossed his path.
History and Society
De Jesus, Carolina Maria. Child of the Dark. New York: Signet, 2003. Written between 1955 and 1960, these intimate journal entries by Carolina de Jesus offer a rare first-hand glimpse of the life of a single, black mother of three who lived in a São Paulo favela and earned a living picking garbage. Through a chance encounter with a journalist, her diary was published in 1960 and de Jesus became something of a celebrity.
Fausto, Boris. A Concise History of Brazil. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University, 1999. One of Brazil’s leading historians and a professor at the University of São Paulo, Fausto does an admirable job of condensing five centuries of events and outsized personalities into one comprehensive and highly readable narrative.
Hemming, John. Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008. This former director of the Royal Geographic Society is author of Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, which is considered the definitive history of Brazil’s indigenous peoples. In his most recent book, Hemming gives a fascinating account of life along the mythic river. His characters range from classic (Indians, explorers, missionaries, and rubber barons) to contemporary (hard-core environmentalists, ecotourists, and soya and cattle agro-millionaires).
Levine, Robert M., and John Crocitti, eds. The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics. New York: Duke University Press, 1999. An intelligently edited volume of essays on myriad and often subtle aspects of Brazilian history, society, and daily life. The texts range from academic to alternative, but all are thought-provoking and do a fine job of tackling Brazil’s overwhelming diversity and complexity.
Mattoso, Katia M. de Queiroz. To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550–1888. New York: Rutgers, 1987. Mattoso provides Balzacian details that movingly bring to life the harrowing existence of slaves in colonial Brazil as seen through the eyes of both slaves and their masters.
Morley, Helena. Diary of Helena Morley. London: Virago, 2008. Alice Dayrell Caldeira Brant was a bright, rebellious, and imaginative girl of English ancestry. She grew up in Diamantina, Minas Gerais, in the late 19th century, when its once-glittering diamond mines were already in decline. In the 1940s, aged 62, Brant published her teenage diaries under the pseudonym Helena Morley. Immensely popular, the book became widely regarded as a fascinating record of life in a provincial mining town. The English version was translated by American poet Elizabeth Bishop.
Page, Joseph A. The Brazilians. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996. In an attempt to explain “Brazilianness,” this highly readable cultural history of Brazil draws on politics, economics, sports, literature, pop culture, religion, and historical events and figures.
Culture and Music
Bellos, Alex. Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life. London: Bloomsbury, 2002. A compelling look at Brazil’s national pastime (some would say religion) that traces the fascinating history of soccer from its humble beginnings to its overblown present. Bellos is an accomplished journalist, and he mixes insightful reporting with highly entertaining anecdotes.
Castro, Ruy. Bossa Nova—The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2003. One of Brazil’s most prolific journalists, Castro conjures up the heady days of Ipanema in the late ’50s and early ’60s when fascinating characters such as João Gilberto and Tom Jobim pioneered the cool syncopated sound that took the world by storm. Aside from detailing the history of bossa nova, the book offers a slice of Carioca life from that time.
Guillermoprieto, Alma. Samba. New York: Vintage, 1991. A former dancer and contributor to The New Yorker, Guillermoprieto spent a year in Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Norte neighborhood with Mangueira, one of the city’s most traditional samba schools, as its 5,000 members prepared for Carnaval. This result is a vibrant, passionate, and beautifully written backstage narrative.
McGowan, Chris, and Ricard Pessanha. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. A thorough and well-written compendium of popular Brazilian music styles and major performing artists, this book serves as a useful introduction to Brazil’s rich musical world. The text is accompanied by photos and a vast discography.
Peterson, Joan, and David Peterson. Eat Smart in Brazil: How to Decipher the Menu, Know the Market Foods & Embark on a Tasting Adventure. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 2006. Illustrated with mouthwatering photos, this highly readable book acts as a culinary companion, introducing you to the ingredients, recipes, and diverse regional cooking traditions of Brazil.
Sullivan, Edward J. (ed.), Brazil Body and Soul. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2003. Published to coincide with Brazil’s 500-year anniversary and the subsequent “Best of” survey exhibited by the Guggenheim Museum, this massive catalog provides a mesmerizing overview of Brazilian art. Included are early explorers’ depictions of “paradise,” Aleijadinho’s baroque marvels, Modernism, folk art from throughout the Northeast, and interesting sections on indigenous and Afro-Brazilian art. The thoughtful essays are illustrated with stunning, high-quality photos.
Veloso, Caetano. Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil. New York: Da Capo Press, 2003. Brilliant, charming, and sometimes aggravating Bahian singer/composer Caetano Veloso is one of MPB’s most creative figures. In this colorful memoir, he provides an insider’s look at the generation-defining musical movement of the late ’60 and ’70s, which became known as Tropicália.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition