Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Engrossing Read, 26 Dec. 2007
This review is from: City of God (Paperback)
I bought this novel based on the strength of reviews of the film that was born out of it with the intention of reading the novel before watching the film. The novel proved to be an exhausting yet rewarding read in which the lives led by the many characters is displayed in a frank and brutal manner.

The book's success is in its depiction of the violent yet mesmerising world of the Brazilian favela. Written in a style that is always hard hitting, the violence, sex and language of the novel can be initially shocking although entirely appropriate for the setting of the tale. The prose does not fall into the trap of becoming vulgar despite dealing with issues that are all too easy to portray in a coarse and unpleasing manner. Alongside death, drugs and debauchery, the novel reflects the flamboyant character of Rio's favelas; their parties, carnivals and night-long sambas, in an unforgettable and poetic style.

The novel is split into three sections each of which follows the rise and fall of an era's gangs. As the book progresses through the sections, the reader will notice becoming increasingly desensitized to the death of characters. On my first reading I was left feeling that perhaps a lack of character development in the final section in particular allowed such a feeling of disassociation from the violence to occur. However, on second reading I felt it was indeed the aim of the author to desensitize the reader; much as many of the gang members, most of who are little more than children, are desensitized to the horrific acts they commit. This feeling runs hand in hand with the exhaustion experienced through reading a book in which protagonists rarely sleep let alone rest.

If I was to criticise the book it would be in its failure to engage the reader with the plight of the characters in the final section of the novel. The violence escalates to a point in which the reader may almost feel they are reading a list of the favela's weekly deaths or indeed reading the newspaper stories that are frequently referred to. This was certainly a disappointment following the strong development of early characters such as Hellraiser and Niftyfeet.

My other criticism would be that if one was to read the blurb, you could be forgiven for expecting to read a tale about one man's struggle to escape the vicious cycle of favela life and become a photographer. This storyline is barely followed throughout the novel with only fleeting remarks made about the characters life.

Overall, the novel is a strong read that portrays the epic struggle of citizens of Rio's favelas and the violent gang culture that exists there. I doubt many would find pleasure beyond the subtle humour throughout the book, but it is certainly an eye-opening and important read.
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