Review: City of God by Paulo Lins
I watched City of God (the movie) on repeat as a teenager. It was about time I faced the truth that I am a book person, and need to read this highly celebrated novel.
Set in the most dangerous favela in the world, no one is safe in City of God. The book follows a young man who dreams to escape the brutality he witnesses every day to become a photographer. He tells us the story of City of God, how it got to this terrifying place, and all of the malice that occurs there by those hungry for power, and others who are just desperate to survive. Ok first things first: trigger warning x100 on the violence scale. There is some next level graphic horror in this book. Everything is all the more terrifying knowing that it is based off of a true story; the author, Paulo Lins, grew up in City of God, so many of these gang wars were occurring in his own neighbourhood when he was a child.
If you have seen the movie and enjoyed it, I implore you to read the book. It packs such a bigger impact - I can just imagine the director reading the book and coming to the realisation of how many scenes he would have to exclude due to them going too far and it being unfeasible for them to be filmed. Reading this book gives you no mercy, it is relentless how much death and suffering occurs as if it were nothing. Lins does an incredible job of depicting the horror in the reality of slum life. Guns, drugs, death, rape - these are all used as tools of power to beat down and destroy others. Vengeance is far too common with women getting raped out of punishment for any foot stepped wrong, not to mention in some of the most violent and horrific ways imaginable.
There was a real sense of dread throughout my experience of reading City of God. Any single character could step one foot wrong (in a very minor way), and then know that he would have an entire gang on the lookout to torture him any chance they got. It created a huge attachment and worry towards some characters, and a deep malevolent distain for others.
After reading so many scenes of unquestionable brutality, I myself reached a point where I was desperate for some of these gang lords to die (even be it, in an unpleasant manner) as I couldn't bear to continue to read them inflicting so much villainy on others. Ok - this sounds like I hated the book. I didn't. I thought it was gripping, heartbreaking, disgusting, I felt everything and more during my time reading City of God. My only qualm was that due to the length of the book (and the fact that each chapter was around 200 pages), I ended up getting slightly lost in the middle. There are so many nicknames that fly around, periods of time are jumped to, and new characters are introduced throughout. Halfway through, I felt like I was being recited a long list of events as opposed to feeling a sense of storytelling like I felt during the first and last sections. However, I think this will be an occurrence that only happens depending on the reader.
Overall, please ready City of God by Paulo Lins. It will absolutely provide you with an education, the same way the movie did for me many years ago. But it goes much deeper than the film could hope to go, by painting a picture of the dire reality in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Joining a gang before the age of 10 was commonplace, shootings in the streets where police wouldn't intervene could happen on a weekly basis, and rape was mentioned nearly on every page as a form of punishment to women and men for power hungry. If you are able to cope with the graphic content, this book will give you an insight into life in a vastly undocumented place.
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 4.5 stars
Publication Date: 1997 (my edition: 1 May 2006)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
# of Pages: 483