The Collector of Leftover Souls: Dispatches from Brazil by Eliane Brum (Translated from Portuguese by Diane Grosklaus Whitty) - review by A J Lees

A J Lees

Tales from a Land of Glass Eaters

The Collector of Leftover Souls: Dispatches from Brazil


Granta Books 222pp £12.99

The Collector of Leftover Souls is a compilation of seventeen newspaper and magazine articles written by Eliane Brum, a Brazilian investigative journalist. It begins with a report about ‘baby catcher’ midwives in the Amazon rainforest and concludes with a moving description of a woman dying from cancer in São Paulo. These bookends are used to make it plain that there is no one Brazil, only Brazils within Brazils and ‘The Other’, a vast, unvisited northern forest.

In the course of her work, Brum goes to places few middle-class Brazilians would dare to visit. She stays with a family in Brasilândia, a poor district on the northern margins of São Paulo separated from the megalopolis by an invisible but impenetrable wall. One woman there tells her, ‘The people who live on the outside are scared of us. They think people from the favela are animals.’ Cocaine trafficking has made life for the have-nots far worse than it was when the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, Quarto de Despejo: Diário de uma Favelada, appeared in 1960, shocking Brazil. Brum talks to mothers who have lost their ‘foot soldier’ sons in turf wars and tries to relate to their pain and feelings of emptiness. In this foreign land, just a few miles from her own residence, she also witnesses a great deal of sharing and unconditional neighbourly love. For her, the sadness lies not so much in the children’s deaths but in their effective burial while they were alive.

In another essay, first published in 2015, Brum writes about a man who had worked hard all his life in a São Paulo factory. His loyalty was rewarded with an occupational malignancy. The noise of his stertorous breathing pervades his home. He tells her, ‘I am made of

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