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Child of the Dark

de Jesus, Carolina Maria. (1962, English translation). Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus. NY: Penguin. Translated from the Portuguese by David St. Clair. Original title: Quarto de Despejo.


Autobiography. Diary.

I first read this diary in one of my undergrad courses. It became one of those books that has stayed with me ever since. For whatever reason, I felt a strong need this past week to reread it. Here is a short synopsis of this moving chronicle of one woman's life. It does not do Dona Carolina's work justice, but I hope it moves you to pick up a copy and read more for yourself.


This diary, written between 1955 and 1960, describes not only the life of Carolina Maria de Jesus and her children, but also of those living in the favela (slum) Canindé, in the city of São Paulo.


Dona Carolina was an unemployed, single mother of three with two years of formal education. She spent her days picking through garbage for food, as well as collecting paper and other scraps to sell. Each day the money she earned might go to pay for bits of food, electricity, water, shoes for her ever-growing children, ink with which to write, and transportation into the city. She chronicles her struggles finding food and scraps and what she is able to purchase with the money earned. She also talks of the favelados around her and their constant drinking, fighting, cursing, and more. Dona Carolina wanted to shield her children from the horrors of the favela but knew that would not always be possible.


Each of her three children was born of a different father. Her children, João José, José Carlos, and Vera Eunice were her strength to keep her going throughout the many dark days and nights. Dona Carolina first moved to the favela in 1947, having been fired from her job as a maid and pregnant with Vera (daughter of a wealthy white man whom Dona Carolina assures she will never name in her writings, yet does not support his daughter as she thinks he should). She built her cardboard and wood scrap shack within the favela and continued to live there until the success of her book allowed her the opportunity to have the money to move away.


Dona Carolina reflects on the bitterness of her life. She writes of death, anger, injustice, hopelessness, race, discrimination, politicos, prostitution, and idleness. She does write of happy things, but they tend to be few and far between. "I found the day beautiful and happy."


Included in the Signet Classics edition is an afterward by Dr. Robert M. Levine. He gives more information as to how Dona Carolina's diary was received (not well among intellectuals who believed the diary could not have been written by a black favelada), her life after the publication of the book, and her subsequent books and their receipt among the public and outside Brazil. Dr. Levine also talks about finding Vera, a then schoolteacher in São Paulo and interviewing both her and José Carlos. Vera gave Dr. Levine all of Dona Carolina's diaries, more than 40 in all. After analyzing the diaries and the book, he and his colleague José Carlos Sebe Bom Meihy determined that Dona Carolina did indeed write the entries. Many had believed that the journalist, Audálio Dantas, who discovered her and got her diary published, wrote the book himself. The analysis of the diaries confirmed otherwise.


This is a fascinating look into the life of the poor. It makes you think and examine your own life. As Dr. Levine ends his essay: "How a woman who kept her children alive by finding food in garbage pails managed to write her diary entries without any reasonable chance they would ever be read is astonishing. That she could write that at night she opened her shutters to see the sky because "God sent ... stars to form a luminous path to perform in [my] honor" is miraculous."


Review by: Cassandra E. Osterloh, NHCC Librarian


Available in the NHCC Library HN290 .S33 J4713 1962

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