From Publishers Weekly
The fifth book in Bloomsbury's the Writer and the City series is no dry travelogue, dutifully reciting the requisite tourist attractions and eating and drinking establishments. Castro (Bossa Nova
), a notable Brazilian essayist, meanders through Rio the way a long-time resident might take a visitor through favorite neighborhoods, telling charming anecdotes as they occur to him: a French viscount's lunatic plan to knock down the Sugar Loaf mountain that rises in the midst of Guanabara Bay; the quixotic efforts to move Carnival to the cooler month of June; the playboy Porfirio Rubirosa's loss of his wife in the middle of a dance floor. Historical fables are woven in with an account of contemporary Brazil and a strong dose of the legendary carioca humor. Castro takes us from Amerigo Vespucci's arrival in Brazil in 1502 to the 17th- and 18th-century battles for control of Rio, recounting colonial-era maneuvering with an ear for irony. His musical chronicles follow the Belle Époque and the first hit samba in the 1960s Carnival, "The Girl from Ipanema." He also recounts the drug wars and the growth of the hillside favela slums. He conveys Rio's jeito,
or indefinable spirit, in a way that no traditional travel book could ever do.
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Often resembling "heaven and hell at the same time," Rio de Janeiro has served as a haven for pirates, fugitives, and rebels, and until 1888 it was one of the world's largest slave markets. But despite its checkered past and troubled present, Rio refuses to take itself seriously. When Portuguese explorer Amerigo Vespucci first arrived in 1502, he discovered natives who "spent all their time singing and dancing in the sun, everybody naked, cheerfully fornicating in the woods"--that is, when they weren't eating each other. Today, Rio celebrates Carnival as its cultural centerpiece, and its inhabitants fill Copacabana's sex- and samba-fueled nightclubs, even while the thriving local drug trade routinely erupts in car chase and police shoot-outs. The beach, meanwhile, serves as a pseudo-town square: the places to meet friends, get gossip, and talk business. A worthy entry in Bloomsbury's Writer and the City series, this small, compact book teems with detail and offers an exciting take on Rio's topsy-turvy social history. Andy BoyntonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved