Child of the Dark

Carolina Maria de Jesus

So last week I asked you to do some required reading for this week’s post. Did you do it?

Reason: La Lopez gave me some required reading of my own, a book called Child of the Dark, a diary written by a “favelado” woman named Carolina Maria de Jesus, first published in 1960. I had never heard of the book, not even during the time I lived in Brazil. The book was instrumental in forming La Lopez’s own life path and current work with the UN in Chile so I thought it worth the read.

When I first cracked the book, I, naturally, read the prologue. All of it seemed applicable. Until I got to the numbers for the favelas in Rio de Janeiro: 200. This could not be right! So I fast forwarded and discovered that the preface was written in 1962. Fifty years later, there are approximately 880 favelas.

Obviously, things have not improved poverty-wise during half a century. Why? Guns and drugs. Reading the book, it is clear that while the poor in the late 1950s had plenty of knives and pinga (sugar cane alcohol) the other two were not in wide circulation.

Slavery ended in Brazil, officially, in 1888 by the stroke of a pen brandished by an Empress. But I ask you, with conditions worse than fifty years ago, is the situation today not another form of slavery? Will electing on October 31, 2010 a former Marxist guerrilla, Dilma Rousseff*, make living in a favela any better? Does this make you want to go to Rio for the Olympics in 2016? Carolina had to contend with gnawing hunger; today’s “favelado” dodges bullets. But I do not feel better about the situation in Brazil having read the the book and doing some follow up research.

So, while I was complaining last week about my crappy house, in reality, I know better. I have (hot) running water, toilets, electricity not boosted off the grid. My roof leaks only intermittently. Better yet, I can move if I want/need to. There is too much food in my stomach and I am not mired in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Now you have some required reading for the end of year. I will be interested to know if my Brazilian amigas have read the book. The afterward, written by a Robert M. Levine, was particularly interesting as it tells of Carolina’s life after the publication of her diary and her subsequent departure from the favela. Carolina’s story does not have a fairy tale ending, I warn you. But the real take away from her life was her incredible strength, sense of self, and her continual desire for a better life. She never gave up.

Speaking of moving, Mrs. NATO (pronounced Nay-to, like the organization) is out of here in six weeks. Her beloved, Mr. NATO, is headed to Iraq** the day after her 40th birthday in January of 2011. He will be staying a year. How is that for some birthday present?

Is there a moral to my sad saga? Why, yes, several lessons are applicable to me. 1) if you don’t live in a favela, Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in other hot spots around the globe, stop complaining. 2) sometimes being suckered by real estate offers up a friend or two (to wit: Raftbuddy and Mrs. NATO) 3) peacekeeping sometimes means continued combat.


*Dilma was imprisoned from 1970 – 1972 for her activities.

**Peace-keeping mission? Really? He will be receiving combat pay, so, no.



Filed under Charitable Endeavors, Mature, Moving, People, Reading, Spanish vocabulary

9 responses to “Child of the Dark

  1. Raftbuddy

    I learned a new word today- “favela”.

  2. I liked this post. We all need this type of writing sometimes. We need to be poked. I am thinking though that without the drugs, there might not be as many guns. The Drudge Report had an article on drugs being a 14 billion dollar industry in California.
    But say it is only in reality a 5 billion dollar industry. This is sickening. $14 billion is more than the wine industry in California.

    • Thanks for writing in, Radish! Most people would like to stick their head in the sand and hope it goes away, thinking that it doesn’t affect them or that the problem will fix itself.

  3. La Lopez

    As usual, MK, you manage to take it all to the next level. Now I have to re-read it. But really, not one of your Brazilian friends had ever heard of it? Maybe they are too young?

    On a happier note, do post if you find the custom shoe store, and, love that new profile pic on fb. Some bull you’ve got there…

    • The next level? What does that mean? I am the one who had never heard of the book … the Brazilians have yet to chime in. Jorge Amado, yes. Carolina de Jesus, I’d not a clue til you told me about her. My amigas are in my peer group so the only thing that could have stopped them is possible censorship during the dictatorship. They have an interesting perspective, for example, on the Brazilian flag (this is part of another possible blog post). Will notify if I encounter the new shoe store! Have not been to that part of Madrid and need an Imelda Marcos to join me! The bull … it’s from my personal archives.

  4. maria

    Well ,I will try to give my point of view but sometimes I will need portuguese ok?
    1- It’s a crying shame but I need to say I never read or saw this book.But I will search and read in future,thanks for La Lopez…
    2-Favela is increasing in Brazil this past years?Yes
    Drugs is part of it?Sure.Os comandantes do Trafico de drogas vivem nas favelas gracas em parte a politicos corruptos que sobrevivem gracas ao dinheiro deste mercado e aos consumidores de drogas que vao as favelas para comprar e consumir…Se nao houvesse consumidor nao haveria vendedor!
    Muitas pessoas honestas vivem nas favelas (especialmente no Rio) porque preferem estar proximas do centro.Existem alguns programas para moradia em lugares bem melhores que nao tem sucesso .As pessoas preferem ficar proximas ao trabalho e nao querem se locomover por 2-3 horas para ir ao trabalho.Desta forma a favela aumenta em tamanho a cada ano.
    Nao tenho uma visao muito romantica a respeito disto tudo.E um problema grande e complicado que se resolve com educacao e oportunidade de emprego perto das areas de moradia.Nao e isso que interessa aos politicos corruptos e aos consumidores…
    I believe nothing is more important than education and hard work.I think La Lopez had heard about Marina da Silva.She was born in a very poor family in Amazon area,could not read or write till 16 and became senator and minister .She had 20 million votes last on october.Even if I don’t know the end of “Child of dark” yet, this is a happy end of another woman’s history who believes in education and work as well.

    • Parabens, Dentista! I understood it! Brazilians consume 20% of the drugs in their market, according to my research, so that means 80% is going elsewhere. When I said “drugs” I meant the business end of the deal – the warlords who rule the favelas and who use the guns. It is they who are ruining it for all the honest people who live there. But read the book, even if it depresses you; it will take hard work but is educational. May God Bless Brazil on October 31.

      • maria

        Yes ,Princess.And when I said drug consumers I meant these beautiful people living in Ipanema/Copacabana(a big part of the 20%):writers/artists/high society people who ,after having fun with Veuve Clicot and cocaine say:We should do something to help those poor people in favelas and stop violence in Rio.Hipocritas!They are part of the problem and pretend to care about it!

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