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Book Review

Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus

  • New York
  • Signet Classic
  • 2003

Child of the Dark is a window into the plight of Brazil. Its portrayal of the hunger, disease, and violence of the Brazilian favela of São Paulo tells a story we know all too well of developing countries — where the masses are starving and impoverished, forced to live under the worst of imaginable conditions. More than that, however, the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus opens a window to the political realities of urban Brazil — the ignorance of the government and the Church to the needs of the poor, the blatant racial, class, and sexual discrimination, and the endless cycle of violence of hopelessness in the urban slums.

Living by a seemingly beautiful city where new skyscrapers tower over the horizon, Carolina’s struggle in the favela tells a different story. “Ah, São Paulo! A queen that vainly shows her skyscrapers that are her crown of gold. All dressed up in velvet and silk but with cheap stockings underneath — the favela.” Despite the city’s surface beauty, the deteriorating underside, the favela, always shines through. Carolina recognizes that the city is like a house and the favela a backyard garbage dump; the lives of the rich and the poor are inextricably linked — one cannot be without the other. At the same time, however, she condemns the rich and those in positions of power for their unwillingness to see the squalor that the favelados live amongst.

Another reality that the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus briskly brings to light is the violence and sexism associated with the favela. Everyday, she must watch women around her beaten and mistreated by their husbands. “When the women gave birth, to a boy, he started to mistreat her. He beat her and threw her out of the house. She cried so much that her milk dried up.” As part of her and her family’s survival, she ardently refuses to get married or put any interests of love before those of her children, drawing an analogy between marriage and slavery. From all she can see in the favela, the subservience and abuse of wives is accepted. “The cat is a wise one. She doesn’t have any deep loves and doesn’t let anyone make a slave of her.” More than just point out the existing sexism, Carolina reveals to us the cutthroat, dog-eat-dog mentality of the favela; she is unwilling to trust anyone but herself in a place where survival is a perpetual hardship.

A key point that Carolina’s diary raises regards the ignorance of the Church to the plight of the poor. She reflects on the sermons of Brother Luiz, who tells the community that God blesses only those who suffer with resignation. However, she has serious mistrust for the Church and doubts he could put himself in the shoes of the favelados. She writes, “If the Brother saw his children eating rotten food already attacked by vultures and rats, he would stop talking about resignation and rebel, because rebellion comes from bitterness.” She condemns the Church leaders for lacking the will to effect change and for being out of touch with the struggles within the favela; she implies that the Church serves as an advocate for denial of the abject poverty that exists. Just like the government, the Church is a tool of suppression of the poor, keeping them from rebelling against the government that keeps them in this socioeconomic squalor.

Child of the Dark brings to light many modern-day social and economic issues within Latin American cities. Carolina’s life, though made famous through the publication of her diary, still seems somewhat hopeless, for life in the favela remains unchanged; still she faces a livelihood of rummaging through garbage and a life of violence and sexism, of starving, and standing in a line of hundreds for a drink of water. Her experiences, and those of the favelados, teach us important lessons about the suppressive political and socioeconomic climate of Brazil and Latin America in general. Her diary points out the dire need for humanitarian aid and political enfranchisement for the poor — it alludes to the politically suppressive and ignorant government and their blind eye to the status quo of urban slums.

Notes

  1. De Jesus, Carolina Maria. Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus. New York: Signet Classic, 2003.

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