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City of God: A Novel Paperback – September 14, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Lins's 1997 fiction debut—the source of the 2002 film published in English for the first time—chronicles two generations over three decades in the infamous Rio de Janeiro City of God, "a neo-slum of concrete, brimming dealer-doorways, sinister-silences and cries of despair." From the slum's creation in the early 1960s for flood victims, through the rise of disco and cocaine in the 1970s, to the horrific gang wars of the 1980s, Lins traces the rise and fall of myriad, often teenaged gangsters for whom guns, girls and drugs are the tools of power. While the film traces the divergent paths of two childhood friends, the novel rushes from vignette to vignette, with an ever-changing cast of characters with names like "Good Life," "Beelzebub" and "Hellraiser." Years, and pages, pass in a haze of smoking, drinking, snorting lines of cocaine, dancing sambas, swearing and planning the next big score. Guns dispense justice; the price for disrespect, whether to a spouse, a friend or the favela, is torture or death. Lins, who grew up in the City, lets the horror speak for itself. He serves up a Scarface-like urban epic, bursting with encyclopedic, graphic descriptions of violence, punctuated with lyricism and longing. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
First published in Brazil (as Cidade de Deus) in 1997 and adapted for the screen (as City of God) in 2002, this translation makes the book finally available to English-reading audiences. City of God is a housing project in Rio de Janeiro, initially intended for displaced flood victims. In a kind of dreamlike reportage that covers three decades (the 1960s to the 1980s), Lins contrasts the diminishing beauty of the nearby river and jungle with the growing ugliness of the crime-plagued, poverty-stricken project. He focuses mostly on the short, chaotic lives of gangsters, though he also keeps an eye on pot-smoking Rocket (perhaps a stand-in for Lins), a more gentle soul who escapes to become a photographer. Fernando Meirelles' film was cartoonishly violent, and although the book is startlingly so, Lins shows us more, chronicling longing, lust, ambition, superstition, hope, grief, and despair. With plot devices sometimes as minimal as the dawning of a new day, City of God seems more like a mosaic than a novel, but it's a mosaic with unforgettably vibrant colors. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Honestly, rent the movie and enjoy.
For one thing, some of the writing seems a little bit simplistic at times. I have to wonder if this is due to Lins' style, or if some things get a little lost in the translation.
A bigger issue is that there are way too many characters to keep up with, and only a precious few of them are developed enough for them to leave a mark on your memory. The trouble with that is that characters' start blending together. Add to that the fact that the story tends to jump around quite often. You'll be reading about a moment in the life of one character, when the story will take an abrupt turn to that of another, and it can be confusing to try to follow. I would have liked to see more focus on some of the major characters, rather than bits and pieces about the myriad criminal exploits of probably 20 or so characters. It's as if you keep waiting for a particular part of the story to peak, and it never really seems to. It simply branches off into another section of the story, which will likely end up in more violence.
On the other hand, I have to allow for the possibility that this was maybe Lins' intention. That the lives of these lost souls in the slums of Brazil just blend together in this sea of tragedy and hopelessness. Each person is just another cog in the wheel of violence. I can appreciate that. The novel's lack of structure may not make for the best reading experience, but it is somewhat unique.
For fans of the movie, it's worth a read, if for nothing else than to see what inspired Fernando Meirelles' cinematic masterpiece.