Gold Dust is a page-turning story of greed and desperation, courage and foolishness intertwined with strong three-dimensional characters and an underlying light-hearted humour. Vivid descriptions transport you right to deepest Brazil: you can feel the heat, taste the dust, hear the activity, and there's even a slim scattering of Portugese words in the text, but don't worry - there's also glossary at the back should you need it.
The da Souza family run the small town store in a dying South American backwater. Maro and Inez, a brother and a sister, watch lazily as a couple of local men begin digging a hole on the sidewalk outside and this is how it all begins...
The mere rumour of gold is a magnet for gold-diggers (garimpeiros). Scores of strangers from out of town are enticed to the quiet town by their enthusiasm for gold. Their lust for wealth carries them way beyond the bounds of rational behaviour and they dig ever more frenetically until there's barely a inch of land left unturned.
The cast of this gripping and fast-flowing story also includes Senhora Ferretti, a strong upright woman who keeps on teaching while chaos reigns outside the ever-dwindling school; a young priest, Father Ignatius, who warns against earthly joys and prays for the town's salvation; and Valmir, an educated and politically-aware lodger who writes to save the world. About half-way through the story these three each experience a change of heart or a life-changing turn of fate. These u-turns are serious and important to both the participants and the story. However, for the reader they are comical and I defy you not to chuckle despite the desperate state of the town at this point in the novel!
The second half of the story is taken up with a daring and inspired plan, hatched by these newly bonded characters, to rid the town of the garimpeiros by luring them away. Showing a spirit of enterprise that matches that of tenacious and optimistic gold-diggers, the
children and La Senhora carry off a clever and action-packed conspiracy. It's ingenious - just about believable yet a golden dusting of "James Bond" magic adds a piquancy and humour - and brings the book to a heart-warming end. Brilliant.
McCaughrean's Gold Dust is just like the genuine article: a find worth celebrating.