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Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "How sure [other] living things were of their place in the world, while I was not.", 11 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Heliopolis (Paperback)
Raised in Brazil, Japan, and the UK, author James Scudamore sets this novel in Sao Paulo, a city he obviously knows well, revealing his youthful enthusiasm for life, his sharp eye for injustice, and his hope for the future in a tale which follows the life of Ludo dos Santos from his childhood till about age twenty-seven. Ludo and his mother, a cook, were plucked from Heliopolis, the largest favela (slum) in Sao Paulo, and established permanently at the weekend farm belonging to Zeno "Ze" Generoso, the fabulously wealthy owner of a chain of supermarkets, his British wife Rebecca, and their daughter Melissa. As we know from the opening pages, Ze eventually adopts Ludo, schools him, and makes him a part of the high life.

Telling Ludo's story through flashbacks and foreshadowings of things to come in the future, Scudamore quickly establishes the atmosphere and the dramatic contrasts between the lives of the poor and those of the rich in a city with virtually no middle class. In a touching and revealing scene at the opening of the novel, Ludo, in his twenties, is killing time during a traffic jam before work, exploring a neighborhood in the process of redevelopment. A fifteen-year-old boy, a grifter, is begging for money from two women in the square. Egged on by Ludo, the boy then approaches the wrong person to ask for money, and disaster strikes. Though Ludo blames himself for what happens, the event is ultimately "just one more frenzied city drama in a thousand, to be forgotten and absorbed into the oozing traffic, and perhaps mentioned in passing over lunch."

Caught between the world of the favela, which he does not remember, and the world of the rich, to which he feels he does not really belong, Ludo is unsure of his place in the world. More sensitive than the bosses at the ad agency for which he works and infinitely more socially aware than Ze, his step-father, he admits that "Sometimes I want to run away from this life to which I have been promoted." A crisis erupts when Ze decides to create a whole new type of supermarket chain-MaxiBudget-to appeal to the poor in the favelas, taking the food to them for the first time. Ze, of course, will make a great deal of money selling to a huge new population, an effort which Ludo believes is made primarily to "stop [the poor] from staring hungrily through the windows of our own [regular] supermarkets," rather than it is from any sense of improving their welfare.

Ludo is especially conflicted about his love for his step-sister Melissa, and he has spent numerous nights with her. Married to Ernesto, Ludo's only friend, Melissa returns Ludo's love-but she also loves Ernesto. As all these issues, both personal and social, come together, Ludo experiences a belated and unusual coming-of-age. The novel is filled with life, dramatic scenes, and revelations about individual and social responsibility, though it verges on melodrama in a number of places, and some coincidences are disappointingly unrealistic. Overall, the novel has direction and a strong sense of purpose, despite the somewhat enigmatic and "thin" ending. Even as people live and die in poverty, often seeing little change and less hope, the author, Ludo's alter-ego, refuses to accept the status quo-"Everything will be different tomorrow," he believes. Mary Whipple
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Review Details

Item

Reviewer

Mary Whipple
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   

Location: New England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 203