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Patrícia Melo’s compassionate view of the people in the favela

In her new novel "The City of Others", Brazilian-Swiss author Patrícia Melo delves deep into the slums of a large Brazilian city. Melo tells the story of people who counter the brutality of the streets with their close-knit community.

They were once salespeople, cleaners, writers or domestic workers: Most of the people living homeless on the streets of São Paulo used to have a so-called normal life. Now they eke out a living doing odd jobs or stealing and collecting garbage. While they make a dry place to sleep out of cardboard boxes on the Praça da Matriz, they dream of this normal life, of food and clean clothes.

In the novel "The City of Others" by Brazilian author Patrícia Melo, it is Chilves, Jéssica, Farol Baixo and Iraquitan, among others, who bring this world, in which survival is a daily struggle, into the reader's heated room.

Melo zooms in on her characters chapter by chapter and has several narrative threads running in parallel. She gets painfully close to the daily fear of death, shows the corruption of the authorities, the helplessness of the police, the brutality of the streets - and never loses sight of the people and their stories, which she tells with great empathy.

There is Chilves, for example, who longingly observes the empty luxury apartments and imagines a life with Jéssica, or there is Iraquitan, the writer, who draws strength from words. Together they form a close-knit community from whose midst something like hope germinates.

Patrícia Melo, who grew up in São Paulo and now lives in Lugano, takes a socially critical look at Brazil's big cities and current politics in her works. She writes crime novels, radio plays and plays. "Writing some books is more difficult, or at least more painful, than others. That was the case with 'The City of Others'," she writes in the acknowledgements. Despite all the heaviness, Melo manages to retain an impressive narrative lightness.*

*This text by Maria Künzli, Keystone-SDA, was realized with the help of the Gottlieb and Hans Vogt Foundation.

©Keystone/SDA

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