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Wednesday’s Wise Woman … Carolina Maria de Jesus

April 18, 2012

“May 31st  Saturday

A day that drives me crazy because I have to arrange for something to eat for both Saturday and Sunday. I made breakfast using the bread from yesterday.  I put the beans on the fire.  When I was washing the beans I thought: today I feel like Society – I’m going to cook beans! It seemed like a dream.

I got bananas and manioc roots at the shop on Guapore Street.  When I was returning to the favela a lady at 728 Cruzeiro do Sul asked me to throw a dead dog into the Tiete and she would give me five cruzeiros.  I left Vera with her and went. The dog was inside a bag.  The woman stood watching my ‘Paulistana’ steps.  That means walking fast.  When I returned she gave me six cruzeiros.  When I received the money I thought now I have enough money to buy some soap”

The child of the dark: the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus.

Whilst researching the history and formation of Favelas I came across a translation of a book called Quarto de pespejo (The garbage place) by Carolina Mario de Jesus. It was written between 1955 and 1960 and is the daily journal of a single mother of three children.  Carolina describes the way she supports her family by picking through garbage, salvaging paper and scraps to sell for a few pence. They live in a cardboard and wooden shack in a favela, where there is no plumbing and the only water supply is one tap that serves hundreds of families.

In a bid to better her life and that of her children she became determined to tell her story in note books made out of paper found while foraging.

The journal published was in 1960.  Carolina was discovered by a visiting journalist.  Audalio Dantas,  who was covering the opening of a municipal playground.  When some children were misbehaving in the playground he overheard her threaten to write about them in her book.  When Dantas heard this he was intrigued and asked to see it.   Carolina was reluctant at first but invited him and showed him her work. Dantas persuaded her to give him a sample that he printed in the paper soon after.  It was received well when published.

Although written in a simple unsophisticated style of the favela-without romance, her diary was translated into more than a dozen languages and was a bestseller in the United States and Europe. The English version was published in 1962 and was called Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus.  The book was edited by Dantas, and considered by some to be fraudulent.  However, the original manuscript had been preserved and was reprinted in 1999, proving that not only did Carolina write it herself, but that she was a much livelier and more poetic writer than Dantas’ edition seemed to present.

Carolina’s book has been used by historians not just by Brazilians but worldwide to provide a firsthand account of life in a favela. Reflecting on her wretched fate, she wrote about death, excrement, prostitution, race and discrimination – describing and the way in which restaurant holders spill acid on waste food so that the poor could not take the food.  Also about how she cared little about idleness  and how she believed if people worked hard they ‘they could aspired to a better life’ ’(Jesus 2003)

Often after a particularly miserable day she would describe something that cheered her – the sunset or the city lights. Writing brought her some happiness and a little financial return but it didn’t last long and when she died as she was still making a living scavenging in the rubbish.

Jesus, C. M. d. (2003). Child of the dark, the diary of Carolina de Jesus. New York Signet Classics.


 Jesus, C. M. d. (2003). Child of the dark, the diary of Carolina de Jesus. New York Signet Classics.

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