Brazil is home to some of the world’s best authors with the likes of Jorge Amado, Machado de Assis, Clarice Lispector and Paulo Coelho writing various critically acclaimed literature. Many of their novels leave a trace of Brazilian culture, whether it’s from their own Brazilian roots leaking through or the storyline setting. Yet for anyone visiting Rio de Janeiro, the following five books will scratch the surface of the gripping culture there and offer revealing insights into life in Rio.
The Slum – Aluisio Azevedo
Set in Rio de Janeiro, The Slum unpicks two interweaving storylines. The first is of an immigrant landlord that leaves his black lover for a rich white woman in his quest to become a rich investor. The second is a love affair between an immigrant and a mixed-race woman that happens to take place in a rented apartment from the landlord in the first storyline… The novel is critically acclaimed as one of the most accurate descriptions of Brazilian society, especially representing the attitudes of race and poverty in Rio de Janeiro in the early 20th century. Azevedo brings his story to life with rich accounts and vivid imagery, as well as describing the deep underbelly of the complex Brazilian culture and values.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Invisibles – Ed Siegle
Joel, a dentist, leaves his life in England and heads to Rio de Janeiro, a decision resulting from seeing his presumed-dead father alive on a news clip after a bus is hijacked in Rio (the story of the hijacked bus is actually based on a true story from June 2000). Joel stays with his friend Liam in an apartment near to Rio’s beautiful beaches. Invisibles lifts off the pages with its bright descriptions of the bars, the music and the food. Portuguese phrases are sprinkled throughout the book and although many readers may not understand the Portuguese words, they make sense in context and emphasizes the Brazilian theme. It’s a great story to read to delve into the culture before heading to Rio.
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon – Jorge Amado
Jorge Amado is considered one of Brazil’s best writers and his book Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is regarded as one of his best novels. The novel captures the very essence of Brazil, managing to exude something exotic and distant yet completely compelling. It’s a must read for anyone planning or thinking about visiting Brazil. Amado brings alive the smells, sounds and imagery of Brazil in his story of a young, beautiful, poor girl that starts working as a cook to take herself out of poverty, but she quickly becomes the object of the town’s men’s desire. The book reveals intimate cultural insights, especially in food and tastes.
Futebol Nation – David Goldblatt
‘The story of Brazil through soccer’ is printed on the front cover and that’s exactly what the book aims, and succeeds, in telling. Brazil is associated with football quite unlike any other country and its presence is much deeper than a surface passion. Football has captured the hearts of the entire population and rightly so with five World Cup wins and some of the best players in the world. Yet there is also an intricate dark side of football in Brazil involving wealth and corruption which this book explores. For anyone visiting Rio de Janeiro, it’s impossible to miss the countless games of football on the beach and the general chit-chat about players. Futebol Nation will get you up to speed on the basics of Brazilian football and help you understand the society and sporting culture.
Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio – Misha Glenny
This book offers a fascinating account into the life of a hardworking father, Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, that came to rule Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s largest slum. It takes the reader through the story of his past days and how he became the head of a drug cartel and one of Brazil’s most wanted criminals. Whilst it offers a revealing insight into Rio’s favelas, crime and culture and answers many questions surrounding these topics, it does so in a way that doesn’t glamorize this aspect of Brazil. Rather, it shows a man that did what he could with the hand he had. Nemesis: One man and the Battle for Rio is a compelling read into Rio’s underworld, one that is complex and with strands at all levels in society. It’s a must-read for anyone who has ever had a curiosity in Rio’s crime, poverty, corruption and darker side.
By Sarah Brown
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