“This is not the typical book that you read whilst sitting calmly and still. In order to read the multiple directions in which the text spreads out, forming different geometric shapes you need to rotate the book around again and again and unfold the pages.”
Innovative editorial design by Studio Firth, for Adam Thirlwell’s, Kapow!
A book to be read on screen and paper at the same time.
Amazon has just acquired Goodreads
comments on The Summer Prince
First of, I would like to make it clear that I think it’s great the Alaya Dawn Johnson’s idea of writing a non-white, not heteronormative, non-patriarchal society. Kudos. And I think it’s cool that she is genuinely (or so it seems) interested in the history of africans and african decedents in Brazil, their/our culture and candomblé.
BUT she obviously doesn’t know enough about Brazil to write specifically about it. I know she did some research, but it wasn’t enough, and she ends up taking too many “poetic liberties” because of it. In the use of Portuguese, in the description of religions, in the character names… And she ends up using the “but this is a distopia, it’s not really your culture” excuse for all of this, which is a terrible cop-out.
All of those problems would not be problems if instead of saying “this is future Brazil” she said “this is some future non specific place”. It’s ok to take elements of a culture, modifying them, and building your own. As long as you don’t say your culture is the same as the original one (which she did). Your made up society CAN NOT be called Bahia, nor can it be on the same geographical place as Bahia. You CAN not say where it is in the globe. You also CAN make a name up or not even mention a name at all. It just cannot in any way be Bahia-Brazil.
If the author was Brazilian writing for Brazilians I wouldn’t be worried. We would be able to tell what is us and what is this made up future. Not to mention, a Brazilian author would know what parts of our culture are important enough to remain or be mentioned at all in a natural way. But coming from Alaya, it’s hard to tell how conscious she is about the way she piles up stereotypes and misconceptions. And from reviews I’ve seen around (I’m looking at you, PW’s “recognizably Brazilian”) it’s safe to say the readers cannot tell how wrong her portrait is.
I swear I tried to read this seriously, but I got too distracted by all the things that were wrong on screaming stereotypes (and her plot is actually good!). Her misuse of “papai” and “mamãe” makes all her characters sound like toddlers. She used foreigner/made up names as if they were traditionally Brazilian (Folade??? Seriously???). She overuses samba as if it was the only type of music Brazilians ever produced (half of the songs she mentions aren’t even sambas. Next time try adding chorinho, bossa nova, frevo, baião, marchinha or any of the other hundreds of styles we created). She changed dates, cultural manifestations, and even the way we deal with climate for no particular reason (I imagine it was only for the purpose of making it more attractive for Americans).
So, if you are going to read the book, please, do everyone a favor and just cross out every time Brazil, Bahia, or any city mentioned and pretend it’s somewhere else. Just forget this was supposed to be us. It’s not.
In conclusion: Great intention. Execution, not so much. I couldn’t focus on her awesome story because I was too distracted by her butchering our culture.