I was reluctant to read this book because I was worried at the emotions it might bring out. I lived in Brazil for a year and a half, and spent a fair amount of time visiting favelas and speaking to the poor and weary who were unfortunate enough to call those wretched places home. I’m also pregnant, and when I am pregnant I cry about everything. This book was frustrating in many ways because I knew so many women like Carolina. I knew women who picked through trash to buy a few snacks for their children. I knew women who had child after child without husband or even proper boyfriend and I saw their despair.
de Jesus immigrated to Rio de Janeiro when she was a teenager to work as a domestic servant in wealthy households, but by her own admission spent much of her time sneaking out to meet boys at night and not working. When she became pregnant her employment was terminated and she began her life in the favela. Her days are spent in constant pursuit of food. She has no regular employment and soon she has three children. Though she has little education, she loves to read and to write stories. She also writes in a diary detailing the comings and goings of her neighbors. It is this diary where she documents all the cruel realities and ugliness that exist in the favela. Fights, prostitution, intimidation of the poor, corruption. de Jesus does not spare the politicians of the era and correctly documents how when election time rolls around they come with camera crews and food for the favelados, but once the elections are over, they disappear.
I felt that de Jesus’ diary was accurate for the time, though a bit heavy handed with criticism for her neighbors and a bit of a holier than thou attitude. For example, she complains about her neighbors who have succumbed to prostitution, but she has a gentleman or two that visit her for sex and bring money… so I am not sure how that differs? The fact that she doesn’t peddle on street corners is simply a matter of location. But I suppose we are all the heroes of our own diaries. At times it was repetitive, monotonous, and difficult to read. I assume that reflected her life, but it doesn’t make a good book. I also feel that this work isn’t more widely known because after de Jesus managed to leave the favela, she ended up there again after the money was gone. She lived a sad life. People interested in non fiction poverty books, books about Brazil, or literature by women of African descent would enjoy this book. I have a hard time picturing other people really being enthused about it.