Half a continent in size and a potent mix of races, religions and cultures, of unexplored wildernesses and bustling modern cities, it is also one of the few countries Michael Palin has never fully travelled. With the next Olympics to be held in Rio in 2016 and the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, international attention will be on the country as never before. Michael Palin’s timely book and series take a closer look at a remarkable new force on the world scene. From the Venezuelan border and the forests of the Lost World, where he encounters the Yanomami tribe and their ongoing territorial war with the gold miners, Michael Palin explores this vast and disparate nation in his inimitable way.
I (more or less) wrote this review a year ago in order to be topical for the World Cup, which you may have heard kicked off yesterday with Brazil playing the first game against Croatia and a disappointing penalty shout.
Brazil has never had a war, although with the demonstrations going on, over the amount lavished on the world cup it is as close as it will come. The nation of samba and (usually) relaxed attitudes is a complex mixture of class and culture, a collision of European and African beliefs…a country that embraces its roots whilst putting itself at the forefront of new movements.
Once again Michael Palin took me on another intrepid jaunt to far-flung places, from the comfort of my own bed and sometimes a chair because even though neither location is exotic they are quite a bit apart so give the illusion of an epic traversal across the house. It’s a good time to read this book, what with Summer being less rainy than other seasons and the quintessential season for Brazil, in readiness for this World Cup and beyond to the Olympics in 2016.
Being over +2500 miles in both length and width, Brazil was the ideal country for a Palin book and after the less enjoyable than usual New Europe, this is a return to form. The author’s relaxed approach, gentle humour and inability to be anything other than an Englishman when called upon to do anything involving rhythm makes it an accurate representation of the citizens of this country in the wider world.
Whether he is meeting up with a transsexual, going to the abandoned American town Fordlandia or finding stain glass windows at a football club, the authors eye for these little snippets of fact are always absorbing, it does make one wonder what we miss in our own country because we don’t look with the eyes of an outsider, experiencing something unique and culturally relevent.
Palin seeks out different stories and is ready to celebrate vibrancy and multi culturalism whilst looking with melancholy at the history that made Brazil what it is today. Looking at social and class divisions, African fusion into music and religion, coupled with European architecture and the youngness of the nation and the colonial presence which looms large having shaped the country for better or worse.
Presented in a way that shows both the good and the bad, the places of hope and gloom, the fears and the dreams of a nation, this even-handed approach brings another perspective to things we see on the news. Most notably the favelas whilst being places of poverty do have their success stories and there is almost a sense of romance infused into some of the anecdotes. of course this doesn’t detract from Palin’s descriptions of the squalor that is also in evidence. If you pick up the hardback edition Basil Pao’s accompanying photos are lavishly and liberally spread throughout and are an endless source of fascination.
Brazil is a country that merges ideas together, such as the fusion of African worship and Catholicism to form a new but recognisable style of religion, this fascinating and multi layered country built on music and colour makes you want to get straight on the computer and find out not only about the plights of these people but also the people themselves.
It rouses up the traveller in me that’s for sure, it does make one want to cast off the shackles of material possessions in order to see the sights and get involved with these people and their stories. The scope of the book is wonderful, you really do get a sense of variety and beauty in all landscapes and the people, not to mention the sheer size and diversity of the country itself…the only thing about this book as with so many other books of the genre is the feeling that the ending was slightly rushed but perhaps with the journey coming to an end and home beckoning, then it is perhaps understandable.