The Brazilians Paperback – 16 Aug 1996
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About the Author
Joseph A. Page, a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center, is the author of Peron, which was translated into Spanish and became a South American bestseller. He also wrote The Revolution That Never Was and Bitter Wages.
Top Customer Reviews
Each chapter handles a different topic - from religion and television (the cult of the telenovela) to the haves and have nots, violence and Lula as a political phenomenon (shame it's a little out of date on this). There are also chapters on the different ethnic groups.
Information is peppered with personal experience and is never trivial, narcissistic or superficial (unlike the Malathronas book).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Although Page presents a comprehensive view of Brazil, he unfortunately neglects two topics that should be part of any portrait of the country. The first is its much-maligned capital, Brasília, which gets hardly a mention in this book. Brasília's founding in the late 1950's, its rapid growth and its decline into a moth-eaten, sun-baked museum of outmoded architectural ideas could have filled an entire chapter. For an engaging and upbeat view of Brasília -- more positive than anything I've ever heard from the Brazilians themselves, all of whom seem to loathe their capital -- check out Alex Shoumatoff's "The Capital of Hope."
Page also doesn't say much about Brazilian food and drink, which is too bad, because from the moquecas of Pernambuco to the huge steaks of the South to the fish of the Amazon, Brazilian cuisine is a delight. A cup of Brazil's strong coffee accompanied by pão de queijo, a kind of popover laced with cheese, makes a breakfast fit for an emperor. Brazilian beer is just right for a hot afternoon, its wines are underrated, and the caipirinha -- a refreshing concoction of cachaça (a spirit distilled from sugarcane), crushed limes and sugar -- is surely one of the best cocktails in the Western world. Brazilian food and drink deserve wider recognition outside Brazil, but they don't seem to get any here.
These minor complaints aside, Page has written a superb book. If you read only one book on Brazil, read this one.
But it's a foreigner's view; Page has visited many times, knows many Brazilians, and is married to a Brazilian. Even so, I found many of his comments and views unrecognizable to me; perhaps one must live in the country and work there, in the local economy, paid in Brazilian currency and working with ordinary Brazilians, to absorb various subtleties of life in Brazil and of interaction among ordinary Brazilians, that Page omits, or may even be unaware of. For example, his account of economic activity in Brazil makes it clear that connections are vital for business success and that many of the most successful firms in Brazil are family firms. But what he doesn't say, surprisingly in view of the fact that he's a professor of law in the US, is that Brazilian commercial law is so different from commercial law in the US that it is very hard, and takes a very long time, to get a commercial dispute settled through the Brazilian legal system. So, as a practical fact, any sensible business owner in Brazil depends on family connections and close friends to straighten out and resolve problems involving contracts.
Page also plays down the size and vitality of Brazil's middle class. This seems to be because of his own political views, but it seriously misrepresents the way Brazil actually functions. A good example of the true Brazil of today is the aircraft company EMBRAER, which I recently saw referred to as "the Boeing of regional jets"; indeed, right now in the US I keep seeing EMBRAER turboprops and EMBRAER regional jets in use all over the US by a lot of airlines. EMBRAER started out as a Brazilian government initiative, but became truly successful after it was privatized. I knew a number of the engineers and technicians who helped to found EMBRAER and make it successful, and they were neither members of the elite nor from impoverished backgrounds. A very few came from rich families and a very few came from impoverished backgrounds, but the large majority were from families of professionals or families that owned small businesses. What they had in common was extremely high intelligence, a good education, and determination to make EMBRAER succeed in the commercial market, which it has. Most of them got their primary, secondary and university education in the public educational system, which is much better, at least in the Southeast, than Page gives it credit for. People I have since encountered, from similar backgrounds, are at the heart of the steady effort in Brazil to master nuclear technology.
US government treatment of Brazil and the government of Brazil has often been shabby, to put it kindly. Everyone I knew in Brazil welcomed Americans, including me, provided we identified with Brazilian views on international relations, rather than with US government views. I don't know how many times, but it was many, while I lived there, that the local CIA station chief visited me so that I could tell him what lay behind some grievance that had Brazilians badmouthing the US government; he lived in an American compound, drove an American automobile, and was regarded with deep suspicion by almost all the ordinary Brazilians he met.
As for the destruction of rainforest and the awful treatment of the few remaining clans of wild native Americans, it is no worse, and in most ways less destructive, than the way in which the European settlers of North America treated indigenous people and despoiled the environment. Many Brazilians, possibly most of them, resent being lectured by people from the US and Europe about how Brazilians should conduct themselves in the Amazon basin, in the Pantanal, in the remaining fragments of the original coastal forest, in the extensive grasslands of Goias and in the part of the Northeast that is subject to frequent drought. Almost all the Brazilians I knew when I lived there were as aware as people in the US and Europe of the ecological and social problems involved in opening up the backlands. But what would you have had them do? Turn 3/4 of Brazil into a wilderness preserve? impossible. I think Brazil has done quite well to preserve its ecology and the culture of its remaining native Americans as well as it has, and, what's more, Brazilians are still learning in these topics, just as we are, and the record is improving steadily.
In summary, Prof. Page's portrayal of Brazil is analogous to what I would expect to find in a book by Jacques Chirac purporting to explain the United States to French readers; there are a lot of good facts here, but a conceptual disconnect.
Page does a good job at trying to explain what is Brazilian by delving into the history of the country. The colonial past certainly branded the country, with its strong slavery component (slavery was abolished only in 1888 in Brazil) and almost medieval social stratification of masters and slaves or, later, peons. Page contends that many of the attitudes and dynamics generated by these have perdured, in one way or another, to this day, even in big cities. Also, Page emphasizes the influence of the many immigrant groups (Portuguese, Japanese, Italians, and Germans)and religions (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and 'candomble' and 'umbanda') in marking the country. It is, indeed, so rich a tapestry of influences, that one sometimes feels somewhat lost in trying to grasp what is truly Brazilian.
I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in this fascinating country. Page is sometimes condescending in his exposition, but he is always interesting and provides good food for thought and discussion.
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