5 Must-Read Books Before Traveling To Rio De Janeiro

Photo of Sarah Brown
18 October 2016

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.

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.

É doce morrer no mar.. #marmorto #jorgeamado #livros #minhalivraria

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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.

gabriela, clove and cinnamon. #jorgeamado

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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.

Resumo do fim de semana.

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