City of God

“City of God” by Paulo Lins (Brazil)

Synopsis and Review

“City of God”: an eternity of poverty, revenge and violence?

Based on a true story, this is a frighteningly moving account of daily life of gang members in one of Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slums, Cidade de Deus. The author, Paulo Lins, moved to the City of God housing project when he was seven and he managed to escape the cycle of violence to become a photographer and writer. This novel is the result of extended research into the drug trafficking and gang warfare that marked the neighbourhood in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In one of his first interviews after the book was published, Paulo Lins said, ‘I wrote this book as a gift for the middle class.’

Members of the Book Club found this book a tough read. The cycles of violence, the brutality, and the despair made more that one reader feel like giving up before the end. However, most kept on, focusing on its sociological merit, rather than its literary merit. The abundance of characters (over 150!) made it difficult to follow what has happening a lot of the time. Some of the descriptions of the violence were stomach churning and as the story moves along, the repetition of these scenes wears heavy on the reader. Members felt that the author was emphasizing the downward spiral of the social conditions through the decades, as the violence became more brutal and pervasive. Readers noted a couple of funny scenes, one involving a rooster, and the occasional glimpse of hope within all the despair. Members felt that the book did not score high on a literary level, but it has an important merit as a social documentary. As a result, the book averaged 6 out of 10.

The theme this season is “From Book To Film”. The film adaptation, made in 2002, was directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund. It received four Oscar nominations in 2004 for Cinematography, Directing, Film editing, and Adapted Screenplay. After reading the book, the film came across as much less violent and much easier to watch than anticipated. Some felt that it made sense of the book. However, others felt that it made gang life look cool and hip, and that the violence of daily life in the favela was not felt to the same extent as in the book. The conclusion was that people with weak stomachs should just watch the film. On the other hand, for those who thought the film was cool, we would highly recommend you read the book, and think again!

Nicola’s Book Club reading list

Season 4 – “From Book To Film” (Sep 2006 – Jan 2007)

“Tsotsi” by Athol Fugard (South Africa) *
“Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel (Mexico)
“Oscar and Lucinda” by Peter Carey (Australia)
“The Lover” by Marguerite Duras (France)
“City of God” by Paulo Lins (Brazil)

* The book club favourite
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

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