Order for £22.50 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Brazil, By Michael Palin. Orion, £25
Tuesday 13 November 2012
Michael Palin does a very effective job masquerading as the man next door, an English everyman in his holiday uniform. In this disguise, but breaking out into his self-mocking humour at need, he mucks in all over Brazil, dancing with Yanomami tribes, swimming with freshwater dolphins in the Amazon, parading with transvestites on a gay pride march in Rio and carrying the shopping for a celebrity chef. He attends the all-night street party of St John's Eve and an ecstatic Candomble service, as well as meeting modern storm-troopers, rubber-tappers and miners.
It would be easy to dismiss this volume, profusely illustrated with the razor-sharp eye of Basil Pao's photographs, as no more than a subsidised album of tourist exotica or a souvenir tie-in to the current TV series. But that would be a mistake, for Palin does his job as a travel writer very well indeed. He knows how to entertain the reader at first, resists any temptation to lecture, then builds up a slow-boil of interest before teasing out some answers through some skilful interviewing.
The resulting mosaic of opinions draws out a fascinating composite picture of a nation that, through the three cultural markers of language, music and food, is triumphantly self-defined and ceaselessly inventive. Brazil is also a country that seems to have no enemies, no lost provinces to redeem, but side by side with that famous tolerance, there has also evolved a complete indifference to the rule of law. And despite the insistent imagery of tropical forests and vast rivers, 80 per cent of people live within 250 miles of the coast, on an undulating range of hills etched across a semi-arid plateau.
For all the proud talk of Brazil's happy cocktail of races, the industrial heartland was formed recently, assisted by a flood of 20th-century European migration to the 40-million strong Sao Paulo conurbation. The real money has always been made from mining, controlled by a handful of powerful men, pouring mountain-loads of ore into ships bound for China. These are the sort of people even Palin can't get access to, though he has made it an exhilarating journey introducing us to the rest of the nation.
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Germanwings crash: Captain of doomed plane was only 'on board because he changed job to spend more time with his children'
- 2 Ohio Democrat Teresa Fedor speaks out during abortion debate to reveal she has been raped – and is interrupted by laughter from Republicans
- 3 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 4 Germanwings crash: 'Andreas Lubitz planned to marry pregnant girlfriend', claims German report
- 5 Germanwings plane crash: Transcript reveals passengers 'screamed for over five minutes' before plane crashed into mountain
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans