The first book I ever read by Vasconcelos, “My Sweet Orange Tree”, is still among my all-time favorites. There were two follow-up books to that, which I found haven’t been translated into English. I read those at certain stages of my life, so you could say Vasconcelos’s characters and I kind of grew up together. It was an amazing journey, I must say—these stories that dress up reality and see beauty even in tragedy, these simple stories that throw human emotion in your face with all their might have pulled me away from the fairytales and put me into the magical world of reality.
Banana Brava has all these elements while following around a group of garimpos (men who dig for diamonds). They’re such an unusual group of people that Vasconcelos even apologizes in the foreword of the book, saying he’s sorry for even keeping their curses the same in the book. They do heavy work, real heavy work, as they eat bad food, drink bad drinks, wear dirty clothes and drift around with no money. What they eat and drink especially caught my attention because I’m a lover of eating and drinking. The footnotes have explained very well what exactly it is they’re consuming. I didn’t at all understand how they can eat so badly yet have all that energy to do the work they have to do. And looking at the worn-down places they stay in, I have no idea how they manage a good night’s sleep and can actually get up so early in the morning.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the characters’ stories outside of being a garimpo. For example, Joel is a pianist who ran away from his family. As I read more and more into his history, I found myself thinking what it means to be a “man” in a society and how that changes from culture to culture. The one in Banana Brava, in Brazil is very similar to how it is in Turkey: a “man” should be strong, should be able to do things that require a lot of physical strength, should be tough… When that’s the way people look at it, it’s not surprising that a pianist with soft hands would give it up to become a garimpo.
From what I’ve seen, this book hasn’t been translated into English either, but I really hope it does soon because Vasconcelos is an author everyone needs to meet.