The Sun on My Head- Stories from the Favelas of Brazil.
These stories are short, punchy, raw; wrapped and written richly in the slang that permeates Martins' Brazil, the people and experiences he so vividly depicts come alive authentically.
Each story gives the reader an intimate portrait of the boys and young men of the favelas: their actions, play, thoughts, feelings, friendships, hustle, grind, family dynamics, drug exposure and use. They tell of the rung they occupy in the socio-economic landscape; how they are viewed by certain members of society because of where they reside; how those perceptions can lead to them leaning into the stereotype, seeing how far they can instill terror, if only to feel the thrill or the illusion of power it may grant them; just so they can regain control of their narrative in some way.
Martins populates each story with living, breathing, familiar characters that I can definitely draw some relation to the community in which I grew up: the labels that were placed on certain young men who did not conform to a mold that was dictated by an uneven society; being targeted, harassed, and exploited by corrupt police; turning to peddling and indulging in drug use as a means of lashing out against the restrictions being placed on them.
But there is also hope, strength, love, determination, talent and perseverance within these pages, and to see the characters being so aware of the plane that they exist in and inhabit, and how the system is stacked against them, yet still they push on, was such a joy to read.
I enjoyed every story contained within this collection, but my favourite by far was 'The Mystery of the Vila'. In this story, a group of children filled with the adventure and curiosity that all kids are, test the limits of their bravery in approaching the home of Dona Iara, a practitioner of macumba. It is revealed that Dona Iara has used her 'witchery' to help and heal each of the three friends, even as the adults in their lives decry macumba, and espouse God. I loved this story because it gave me a glimpse into the effects of a syncretic religion and its decline in a space where it once was revered, as well as brought back childhood memories of being drawn to mysterious atmospheres.
The collection is short and will keep you interested and engrossed from cover to cover.