ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Book Review: Child of the Dark

Updated on February 17, 2017

This book review is based on a on a research paper I composed for a Brazilian history class I took in the spring of 1999. I believe this book review will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about Brazilian history in general, and those who want to know about social issues and poverty in this country. Yes, Carolina Maria de Jesus' memoir is actually a diary she kept while living in a favela, but for all intent purposes, it can be considered her memoirs.

Carolina Maria de Jesus' memoir Child of the Dark, is the most thought-provoking book I have read in awhile. Although there are many other books dealing with suffering and social injustices, the reader is immediately confronted with the reality that Carolina wrote this book from her day to day experiences with poverty. Unlike a scholarly book or journal article that is detached from the nitty-gritty of living in abject squalor, Carolina delves into this with vivid detail, which will create a few visceral reactions. The harsh circumstances of life in the favela make the reader truly appreciate the struggles Carolina and her children had to endure living in this environment. However, we must also be discerning of the bias from which Carolina tells this story to compare how it matches the experiences of other people who have lived in favelas. Nevertheless, Carolina's work serves as a useful piece from which to gauge the experience of the favelas that were largely ignored by the Brazilian government around the time this diary was written, which was sometime in the 1950s. Also, this was before the time when the Catholic Church and other organizations began more humanitarian work and aid in the favelas.

I enjoy writing book reviews, and sharing my observations about books.
I enjoy writing book reviews, and sharing my observations about books. | Source

Carolina and other favela dwellers were so caught up in the struggle to survive that they did not have time to resist against social justices imposed on them. In class it was pointed out that one historian had done research in the favelas, and his findings indicated that these communities did not have political agency, and were not really able to present their fight for social justice to the government before the 1960s. This historian also notes that the favelas had a strong sense of community groups that were dedicated to helping those within the favela, to the best of their abilities. However, upon reading Carolina's memoirs, one finds that the picture that is emerges is everything to the contrary of neighbors helping one another. The people in Carolina's community were always bickering with each other, and the women in the favela shunned her. The neighbors would verbally intimidate Carolina's children and throw rocks at them. The situation often became so tense that Carolina was forced to take her children with her when she went out to look for paper. Despite all the chaos in her neighborhood, Carolina feels she is above the other women, and that this is one of the reasons they resent her. Carolina refuses to go to the church and beg for bread, so she takes to the street looking for paper and scrap metal that she can turn in for cash.

On the days that Carolina cannot make enough money, she resorts to digging through the trash in order to find food. Carolina detests the lewd and lascivious behavior of her neighbors, some of who spend their days in engaged in consuming booze, drugs, and frequenting prostitutes. In class we learned about how some favela communities were so cohesive that if the government relocated the residents to a housing track that within a matter of days they would move back to their favela. Even though the middle classes could not understand the desire of these people to move back to the squalor of these residences, the favelados insisted that it was the only home they had ever known, and thus the only place they wanted to be. Carolina, on the other hand, constantly complains about how she thinks the favelas should be torn down, and how she is going to escape once she can make enough money by selling her book. The picture that comes across from Carolina's testimony stands in stark contrast the research about the favelados who yearned for their communities when forced to move away. Which one is the correct way of viewing life in these slums? It all depends on how your look at things, but Carolina did not enjoy favela living at all.

Another issue that was addressed in lecture was regarding the political agency of the favela dweller to redress their social and economic injustices before the state. One historian did research in the legal archives and found that favelados had political representatives who were able to get the state to provide amenities, such as electricity and water to the communities. This historian interpreted the testimony to mean the favelados did have a degree of political agency. However, upon reading Carolina's memoirs, one see that these so-called political representatives stood to gain personally by bringing electricity to the community, so they could then make a profit by charging the residents higher rates for these amenities. Carolina's diary illustrates that only an insider can see certain things the rest of us could never understood, unless we had lived under these conditions.

One of the subjects I found most compelling about the memoir was the favelados sense of alienation with the politicians. Carolina points out that the politicians would come around election time promising to make reforms for the favela dwellers. One thing that sticks out vividly is the statement that Carolina made about how the politicians would even drink out of their cups and acted like there were at home among the favelados. However, once these officials were elected, they would forget about the favelados until the next election cycle. Politicians were simply interested in winning their votes and not in bringing political reforms to the favelas. Carolina's disillusion with the system is further illustrated by the bureaucratic system giving the run around when she is trying to obtain better medical care for her family. Carolina is treated like a troublemaker and escorted off the premises at one government office for simply asking what she needs to do about obtaining the medical coverage she needs for her family. So although Carolina's life is consumed with the search for paper to buy food, she still does what she can to fight social injustice in her life. Thus, her simple question about what she had to do in order to obtain better medical coverage was in itself a form of resistance.

Before reading Carolina's diary I had never realized that the favelado communities existed in Brazil. All I really knew about Brazil were a few things we witnesses about Carnival on television. I also had a roommate from Brazil, but she came from a privileged background and never talked about the poverty in her country. She actually talked about how much better Brazilian barbeques were than American ones, so reading this book was the first glimpse I had into abject poverty in Brazil. Carolina's memoirs really opened my eyes to the disparaging gap that existed between the wealthy in Brazil, and masses who control very little of the resources. Although there are vast discrepancies between the research presented by historians in lecture and Carolina's experience in her diary, we can come to a fuller understanding of this time and place by comparing these sources. I highly recommend the book Child in the Dark for anyone who wants to know more about life in the favelas of 1950's Brazil.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Southern California, USA

      That is a very good summary, Prettydarkhorse.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      3 years ago from US

      Yup, you will never some things unless you are an insider or you are one of them living in a group. Outsiders point of view or one that is not experiencing or living-in can't fully comprehend what is going on. Politicians take advantage.

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Hi Minnetonka Twin,

      Carolina did make it out of the favela, and she lived in a comfortable house for a few years. I did not read her later books, but I heard that towards the end of her life she had lost most of her money and went back to collecting paper. This was a bit sad to hear, but from what I heard she did not have people to help her manage her money.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks for the riveting review of this book. I too hope she made it out after writing her book. Sounds like a hard life there.

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Hi Paradise,

      What Carolina did was amazing with being able to publish a book and rise out of poverty. Unfortunately, later in life she ran out of funds because no one helped her manage her money, and she did die in poverty. However, I still believe it took a great deal of ingenuity to become a published author despite her situation.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I'm going to scoot over to Amazon and see if I can buy this book. It sounds very interesting to me. I think the author made it out of there by publishing her book--at least, I hope she did. That, in itself, is a great success story to contrast with the harshness of her early days.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)