#10 A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb
Picked this up at a used bookstore...
It starts out good enough but pretty quickly loses its focus and becomes confusing as to what was the book's purpose. I believe it was a travel book, but Robb spends 90% of his time in one restaurant in Recife. To be fair, though,Robb does make a couple trips, and spends a weekend at the restaurant owner's beach house a little down the coast. He intersperses his "traveling" with stories about Brazil's history, and this is where the book starts its failure. Robb never really establishes if his book is also presenting a history of Brazil (he kind of stops giving history lessons at the start of the 20th century, and doesn't really give a comprehensive overview, choosing to focus on a few stories and halfheartedly tying them together), a political history of Lula, or an anthropological survey of Brazil.
I think if Robb was just trying to give a story of Brazil, the book would have been much more coherent and provided a stronger narrative. Instead he tries to figure out Brazil's endemic and unique problems that other developed societies didn't have. Problems that weren't unique, such as "why power and money...[were] personal and dynastic, why interests were personal, why wealth and political power clung so closely together". Also frustrating was Robb's typical practice of introducing characters and only after bringing them in to the story, explaining who they were or there relevance.
What makes A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions (a misleading title indeed. I believe the "death" referred to a still not fully solved murder of a key political figure in the late 90s. I have no idea what the "omissions" refers to) is that Robb clearly is fluent in Portuguese which gave him access to a wider range of sources and interviews that a non-Brazilian reporter would have access to. I can personally attest to how difficult it can be. His stories are incredibly interesting and worth reading, even when they do get bogged down in far too literal translations "if we don't deal with the thing, the thing will deal with us" being the worst.