by Carolina Maria de Jesus
Child of the Dark is the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, who lived in a favela, a slum, of São Paulo in the late ’50s. (Well, longer than that in truth, but this is at least the period recounted within these pages.) With only a second-grade education, she sold paper and scrap metal she found in the streets to survive. It didn’t matter if she was ill, it didn’t matter that she felt unsafe; she would wake up not knowing if she or any of her three children would eat that day, and had to often stay out working from dawn to dusk for literal pennies.
Jesus’ writing throughout her diary is dry and often repetitive. This in part makes passages where nothing much happens a bit trying to get through, but more importantly this writing style makes the author come across sincerely. Jesus didn’t want to do anything fancy with her diary––she simply wanted to tell the truth and make the world aware of life in the slums, and this readily comes across. We see the constant struggle against hunger, how simply finding less trash to sell could mean not eating for a day, and how it drove people to scavenge rotten food from the garbage. We see how the favelados would attempt to escape their nightmare existence through drink or suicide, with Jesus even contemplating killing herself multiple times within these pages, when she’s at her most hopeless. And we see the extents of human cruelty these slum-dwellers exposed to––favelados are met with overt contempt and hostility at all turns; factory workers throw food in the river rather than giving it away to these starving people for free; people frequently steal from and exploit those who have nothing.
Child of the Dark is a telling of how politicians, religion, and society in general fail its most helpless. It’s far from a perfect piece of literature, but it’s such an important one.