Cover image for A death in Brazil : a book of omissions
A death in Brazil : a book of omissions
Robb, Peter.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : H. Holt, 2004.
Physical Description:
xiii, 329 pages : maps ; 25 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Australia: Duffy and Snellgrove, 2003.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F2517 .R625 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Combining travel, history, culture, and his own memories of twenty years of Brazilian life, the author of Midnight in Sicily delves into the past and present of a country that affects our imagination like few other places on earth

From his own near murder in Rio at the hands of an intruder twenty years ago and continuing through the recent slaying of a former president's bagman who looted the country of more than a billion dollars, violent death poses a steady threat in Peter Robb's brilliant travelogue through modern-day Brazil. It's not death, however, that leaves a lasting impression but the exuberant life force that emanates from the country and its people.
Seeking to understand how extreme danger and passion can coexist in a nation for centuries, Robb travels from the cobalt blue shores of southern Brazil to the arid mountains of the northeast recounting four centuries of Brazilian history from the days of slavery to the recent election of the country's first working-class president. Much more than a journey through history, Robb renders in vivid detail the intoxicating pleasures of the food, music, and climate of the country and references the work of Brazil's greatest writers to depict a culture unlike any other.
With a stunning prose style and an endlessly inquisitive intellect, Robb builds layer upon layer of history, culture, and personal reminiscence into a deeply personal, impressionistic portrait of a nation. The reader emerges from A Death in Brazil not just with more knowledge about the country but with a sense of having experienced it and with a deep understanding of its turbulent soul.

Author Notes

Peter Robb has divided his time among Brazil, southern Italy, and Australia during the past quarter century

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Brazil is a country so vast and varied that the Sao Paolo banker and the Amazonian tribesman live centuries apart, acquainted with each other, perhaps, only through television. Making sense of it may only be possible through a subjective approach. In this fascinating work, Robb draws on firsthand observation and literary research to explore Brazil's history, politics, and culture, focusing in particular on the manipulations and massacres that shaped events far from its sunny beaches. Beauty and ugliness are inextricably intertwined in what he calls the oddest and most thrilling country in the Western hemisphere. Following the threads of stories and ideas, Robb shuttles back and forth in time: colonization, slavery, military rule, general strikes, the crippling Collor presidency, and the rise of Lula unfold, not as dry chronology, but as cause, effect, and definition of a national character. Running ruminations on food, literature, and sexuality add even more color to a tapestry that's beautiful from a distance and motley up close. Similar in approach to At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig BKL Ja 1 & 15 04, about Paraguay, but with considerably more art and decorum. --Keir Graff Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The death of the title refers to a recent event, but Times Literary Supplement writer Robb gets his mysterious subtitle most directly from Machado de Assis, a 19th-century Brazilian novelist considered at length for his ability to weave discussion of the nation's racial and economic disparities into his wildly popular serial fictions for women's magazines. The term's origins, however, are biblical; First and Second Chronicles were called "Omissions" because they contained information left out of the preceding Books of Kings. Although Robb tries to fill in some of the gaps in recent Brazilian history, he doesn't so much uncover new data on the spectacularly corrupt 1990-1992 presidency of Fernando Collor as pull together some of the many disparate sources. Collor's rise and fall, and the murder of his chief henchman, form a solid backbone for the book, but one from which Robb frequently wanders to ruminate on centuries of Brazilian history filled with eroticism and violent upheaval. He also recounts his own travels through modern Brazil, devoting as much attention to the sensual delights of buchada de bode (stuffed goat's stomach) as he does to a threatening encounter with the military police. The overall result is a bit of a jumble, but it's a delightful jumble: a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with a Latin beat. At various points, Robb compares the unfolding Collor scandal to the soap opera staples of Brazilian television, and he's managed to capture the story's lurid surrealism with a deft, erudite touch. Agent, the Wylie Agency. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The motivation for Robb's latest work is unclear; perhaps he was in pursuit of a story as absorbing and darkly disturbing as his Midnight in Sicily, which he certainly found. Robb left Naples for Brazil's northeastern territory of Pernambuco, where he restricted his travels to the towns of Recife, Maceio, and Palmares, a viper's triangle of Brazil's corrupt ruling elite and home of Fernando Collor de Mello, who in 1990 became Brazil's first democratically elected president in 29 years (he would resign two years later over charges of corruption). Using this historic event as a touchstone, Robb weaves a narrative consisting of three threads: a montage of historical flashbacks of the region; an account of his investigations of government deceit, chicanery, and murder from 1989 to the recent election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ("Lula"); and a description of his travels and encounters. What the reader discovers is that the book's title is intentionally disingenuous-there have been thousands of deaths in Brazil over the years, beginning with the massacre of indigenous tribes and resistance groups to the current "disappearance" of political dissenters and street urchins. Robb's revelations of political nepotism, intrigue, and passion read like a horribly real soap opera. Recommended for all libraries.-Lonnie Weatherby, McLennan Lib., McGill Univ., Montreal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From A Death in Brazil: Murders happen anywhere and mine most nearly happened in Rio. Twenty years later only the scar of a small knife wound on my arm reminds me this is a memory and not a dream. The night went on and on like a dream, with a dream's ungraspable logic, or a Brazilian soap's. Details become wonderfully vivid, like the old carving knife with a long curved and darkened blade carelessly left earlier on the kitchen bench of the Copacabana flat, in the moment it was being held at my throat. My Portuguese lost its rudimentary awkwardness and became unreally fluent very fast. Words I never knew that I knew came pouring from my throat. Things flowed with a dream's weightless speed. The danger lay in the speed. A flailing knife blade moves faster than thought. Movement had to be slowed, the heat lowered. It was the one thing I understood. Let nothing happen. Respond to violence, not with violence, speed, and noise, but with ponderous torpidity, envelop each new threat in slowness. The beautiful Portuguese periods began to roll, slowly, slowly, but with what baroque grace, from my amazing tongue. Obtuse fearlessness stayed the hand with the knife, impassive calm put a little wobble in the spin of violence. Excerpted from A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions by Peter Robb All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

I Mixed Bloodp. 3
II A Cordial Manp. 31
III On the Beachp. 55
IV Parrot Perchp. 81
V Below the Equatorp. 107
VI Stuffed Goatp. 133
VII A World Elsewherep. 159
VIII A Place to Die Forp. 187
IX Witnessesp. 215
X A Used Revolverp. 241
XI In Maceiop. 265
XII A Winp. 289
Sources and Readingsp. 309
A Chronologyp. 317