Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: Brazil by John Updike

Title: Brazil
Author: John Updike
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: January 25, 1994
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

They meet by chance on Copacabana Beach: Tristao Raposo, a poor black teen from the Rio slums, surviving day to day on street smarts and the hustle, and Isabel Leme, an upper-class white girl, treated like a pampered slave by her absent though very powerful father. Convinced that fate brought them together, betrayed by families who threaten to tear them apart, Tristao and Isabel flee to the farthest reaches of Brazil's wild west -- unaware of the astonishing destiny that awaits them . . .

My Review:

I've never read any Updike before, and honestly I always thought I'd start with the well-known Rabbit series.  However, in an effort to squeak out just ONE more country for Shannon's Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, I picked up Brazil in an effort to break into South America before year's end.

Even though I knew almost nothing about this book before I borrowed it from the library, I'm glad that I chose this for my Brazil-based novel for the challenge.  Isabel and Tristao's story is interesting, but as the title implies, Brazil itself plays an extremely important role as the setting for this novel.  I actually learned quite a bit about the country's history and political climate, as well as the culture of three of its very different regions.  Updike does a great job bringing Brazil to life.  This is one of those novels that has a setting so rich in detail, it almost feels like it plays a protagonist's role right alongside the main characters.

As for Isabel and Tristao--first of all, I've never seen/read Tristan and Isolde, the opera on which this book is based.  Part of me wonders how my experience may have been different if I had that background beforehand.  But either way, I was drawn into their story pretty quickly.  Tristao and Isabel have a romance that is not quite of this seems to almost exist separately from their lives with their families, friends, and even their children.  They place their love for each other above all other things, even in the most trying of times (and often to their detriment).  By the end of the novel, their love takes on a fantastical quality, which I was a little leery of (I am not usually a "magical realism" fan), but Updike weaves those elements of the plot into the story so well, that they don't seem unbelievable or out of place.

Overall, this is a fairly quick read, but one that is worth a little more of your time as you soak in the story and its various meanings.  Fair warning: this book is graphic, both in sexual and violent elements, so if that's not your thing, you may want to pick another novel to pass the time.  But despite that, it's definitely given me an appreciation for Updike's writing, so hopefully I'll finally get to that Rabbit series sometime soon...

Have you read any of Updike's novels?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?  Any you would recommend more than others?


  1. I never heard of this one! Interesting! I keep thinking I'll reread the Rabbit books again now that I'm older, but so far haven't done it. I remember enjoying The Witches of Eastwick, although I was more forgiving of sexism in authors back them, but I don't know what the consensus of the literary critics was on it...

    1. See, I don't know a lot about Updike in general, but the comments in this post make me think I should do a little re: sexism and such...hmmmm.

  2. Updike and I have a rocky relationship based on an essay I read in college. But this really sounds like an interesting book! I've never heard of it before, so thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Interested what type of article it was that you read? I don't know a lot about Updike in general.

  3. I have a copy of Gertrude and Claudius that I DNF'd about a thousand years ago. Such is the extent of my experience with Updike. I should probably give him another shot.

    1. Hmmm never heard of that one...will be sure to avoid :)

  4. I actually really love magical realism and am also trying to read more books set in other countries, so this might go on my TBR list. I'm not big on graphic violence and sex though, so I'll have to think about it. I don't know anything about Updike, but I'm glad you enjoyed your first experience with his work :)

    1. Yeah definitely a lot of violence/ might want another choice in this category if that's not a go for you!

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