Customer Review

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2.0 out of 5 stars A montage of scenes and stories, with no main character., 3 Jan. 2012
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This review is from: City of God (Paperback)
I read about 150 pages of this 450 page novel before confidently deciding to abandon the effort on the basis that I had gained and experienced the point of the novel and was unlikely to get anything more out of the rest of the book. Reading other Amazon reviews confirmed this for me. For the record, I rarely abandon a novel.

The book's success is in its extremely detailed and evocative depiction of the harsh world of the Rio di Jinero favela in 1970s Brazil (a favela is a neighbourhood of a city aka shantytown). This is a world of poverty, dirt, iliteracy, bribery, pickpocketing and trickery amongst even the 'nice' characters, constant indulgence in drugs & sex, and violence in all forms imaginable. Husbands beat their wives; the police go around intimidating, punching, shooting, and extorting people just for the hell of it; the gangsters murder during routine robberies just to build a reputation and glory in their power to take a life. In one story a husband kills his wife's baby by another man by slowly cutting off each of its limbs and handing her the box with the dismembered corpse.

This was indeed educational for me and prompted me to get on Wikipedia and find out more about Brazil's history, Rio slums, the three main races that form the country's history etc. However, an education of life in a favela could have been accomplished in short story form, perhaps published in magazines like the New York Journal.

Ultimately though, the book is a messy ramble of stories - many of them self-contained one-offs - with no real storyline and no main character. The book is almost one big montage. In the first 50 pages, I kept desperately trying to figure out who the main character(s) are before ultimately realizing that amongst the 15 or so "gangsters" mentioned, there is no main character or even a main "gang." Many are abruptly killed with only a few words. When the gangsters are commiting small crimes we can somewhat sympathise - they were after all raised in a world of senseless violence and corrupt violent cops, by parents who were prostitutes, addicts, murdered etc. Once the main characters start killing and raping `just because' though, the author loses his reader. No one wants to read about a murderer/rapist who in no way redeems himself or goes through any kind of personal journey. I understood the author was trying to desensitize the reader to violence just as the gangsters are desensitized - but without a story a book is not a NOVEL.

I would recommend the first 50-100 pages of this novel as an educational piece, but nothing more. I would say stop reading once you understood how these people live because the novel has nothing more to offer than this (important) lesson.
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