Brazil – Michael Palin

13 Jun

brazil 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.


Posted by on 13/06/2014 in Travel


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31 responses to “Brazil – Michael Palin

  1. Cory

    13/06/2014 at 15:27

    Another fine review! I have a few of Palin’s books, but haven’t got around to reading them yet. People seem to really enjoy the appeal of the ‘Englishman abroad’, and it looks like Palin really takes the job seriously, and with respect and dedication.

    I want to go to Brazil now!


    • Ste J

      13/06/2014 at 15:33

      And also a little bit of humour…Brazil looks great and with my one bad dance move, I think I would fit right in. Reading his books really does give you the travel bug, not the obvious places though, I’d avoid them and go somewhere a bit obscure…hotels are okay but staying with a family, that’s where its at.


  2. writersideup

    13/06/2014 at 18:26

    wow, Ste J, I had no idea Michael Palin did this or wrote about it. How fascinating, and I would expect humor in it 🙂


    • Ste J

      13/06/2014 at 19:05

      I suppose with Monty Python in his blood, it’d be rude not too! I think this is still my second favourite of his books after Himalaya which was a treat and a half.


  3. Al

    13/06/2014 at 21:09

    I could not help but laugh at the first goal of the world cup was an own goal. I have never watched any of Palin’s programmes or read any of his books. I keep meaning to, but something always distracts me. Keep meaning to watch, that is


    • Ste J

      14/06/2014 at 10:33

      I bet Marcelo was gutted but it was good for the game, got Brazil attacking more and couple that with yesterday’s exceptional comeback and it’s a great advert for the game. The programmes are good, the books as usual add more that the couldn’t fit into the running time of the series. The book is in diary instalments so it is easy to dip in and out of…I should have mentioned that in the review really, things hidden in plain sight, it’s Doctor Who all over again!


  4. gargoylebruce

    13/06/2014 at 23:08

    Is he pointing at the flag behind him with his thumb, or giving a very awkward looking thumbs up? It’s like the Mona Lisa smile of book covers…I quite like travel books like this. They are much cheaper than actually going to the country.


    • Ste J

      14/06/2014 at 10:24

      Perhaps he is attempting to hitch a lift…it is a bit of a bizarre cover, the more I look at it the more questions need answering. It is a better way to travel than getting your shots and having to pack and queue and worry about the food and language barriers and the saving up…I think I have convinced myself to be less exotic now.


      • gargoylebruce

        14/06/2014 at 10:29

        Well, you could have the best of both worlds and simply acquire an insect (preferably poisonous or possessed of at least one pointy or jagged appendage or stinger) native to the country about which you are reading and release it into the vicinity in which you plan to do your reading. For added fun, you could then lock the door. Hey presto! Domestic Exotica!


        • Ste J

          14/06/2014 at 10:35

          I like your style, I may also try to get lost, be out of my depth with language and generally be awkward and English…it’s a bit like heading to Liverpool!


  5. readingwithrhythm

    14/06/2014 at 03:30

    I’ve watched his travel shows but not read his books. He is a funny man. A country that has never had a war? That seems quite unusual. Have you ever been there? I like the music!


    • Ste J

      14/06/2014 at 10:28

      I haven’t been there, it does look like a great place to go and chill out and just have fun. I think the country being so young and the countries around them being relatively stable by that point and the Brazilians so relaxed about things contributed to all that. The books have more content than the shows with the added bonus of not losing the remote when wanting to see a captured scene.


  6. Sherri

    15/06/2014 at 15:02

    Fascinating review of a fascinating read by all accounts. I never thought of Brazil as being a country that has never seen war…shows how little I do know! I do like Palin though, might have to check this book out! Thanks Ste J 🙂


    • Ste J

      15/06/2014 at 16:04

      It is strange that we just assume all countries have been at war…It is the perfect time to pick it up as well, summer, football and a cold beverage a must!


      • Sherri

        15/06/2014 at 19:40

        Yes..let’s not forget that cold beverage 😉


  7. Tom Gething

    16/06/2014 at 20:16

    He’s always fun to travel along with. Thanks for the heads up!


    • Ste J

      17/06/2014 at 14:10

      He never gets old…well he does but he doesn’t if you take my meaning. It puts me in mind to read the last few of his books i haven’t got around to yet.


      • Tom Gething

        17/06/2014 at 14:29

        That’s the problem. The TBR list becomes longer than the read list.


        • Ste J

          17/06/2014 at 14:32

          Haha, no matter how hard we try it the TBR doesn’t get any shorter.


  8. Letizia

    16/06/2014 at 21:32

    I love Palin’s travel shows and accompanying books. He has a way of making people feel so at ease. I haven’t seen/read the one on Brazil although right before the Cup, I saw a short clip of him asking a witch doctor if the England team would win (the doctor laughed). It’s a lovely country; I hope you get a chance to visit one day.


    • Ste J

      17/06/2014 at 14:24

      I remember when I posted up a picture of this two Christmases ago and you said you were interested in the review…I get there in the end! I think everybody laughs at the prospect of England winning it…at least we made a better start than Portugal and Spain which is not something I expected to say. I would love to visit..but then again, I get itchy feet quite a lot these days…


  9. writersideup

    21/06/2014 at 05:45

    So funny how, if I hadn’t read your post, Ste J, I wouldn’t have spotted this TV show on PBS as I was flipping through the channels tonight! I watched about 5 minutes of Michael on a boat in a river catching pirhanna!


    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:30

      It’s funny how these little coincidences come to us…I love the way he seems out of his depth doing pretty much anything…I must watch the show, I never got around to it after i read the book and that was around about this time last year.


  10. shadowoperator

    22/06/2014 at 15:37

    I hate to produce the evidence of a possibly awkward memory, but wasn’t there a film about government repression and torture in the 80’s, possibly Monty Python, but certainly Michael Palin, called “Brazil”? How does this fit in with his current enthusiasm? Is he making nice, or actually engaging in historical revisionism?


    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 15:45

      I think that was Terry Gilliam, Brazil is set in the future, it’s all dystopian and Orwell-esque. Palin’s decision to go to Brazil was based on the economy being strong and the World cup and Olympics being forthcoming…and also the Confederations Cup was last year as well. I may be wrong but the title of the film was so called because it was named after a song that was seen as an escapist song.


      • shadowoperator

        22/06/2014 at 15:57

        Yes, now that you mention Terry Gilliam, I think he was in it too. But I have a fairly clear notion that there was a torture scene with Gilliam or someone else playing the part of an evil dentist (a la “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” was that the American film with the Nazi dentist?), and Michael Palin playing the role of the victim patient. It was highly surreal, of course, but I remember interpreting it as a slap on the wrist of something going on in at least South America, if not Brazil precisely. But my memory isn’t perfect, and I never saw the American runner film, just heard about it from someone else.


        • Ste J

          22/06/2014 at 16:05

          I am a little hazy on my South American history but I’m happy of the excuse to go and read up on the whole continent. I do struggle with dentist scenes and eye scenes as well so I tend to be purposefully ignorant of that sort of thing. Gilliam is surreal in all his films, I like that.


  11. shadowoperator

    22/06/2014 at 16:33

    Yes, I know what you mean about dental scenes and eye scenes. Luckily, I’ve had a really good eye doctor for about 12 years or so now, and I recently found a good dentist, so I’m happy with both of them, as far as one can be happy to have such sensitive parts of the body tinkered with. I’m really not keen on doctors as a whole, but these two have earned my confidence, so things are going along okay as of now.


  12. Mélanie

    28/06/2014 at 09:06

    HL = huge “like”… 🙂 a living legend, just like the other Monty Pythons…


    • Ste J

      28/06/2014 at 16:43

      eight days ago they did their final ever show which was sad but there are so many great and surreal memories that it’s hard to be too sad.



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