Biography •  History •  Latin America and Women

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The Life and Death of Carolina Maria de Jesus

Robert Levine
José Carlos Sebe Bom Meihy

In the dozen years Carolina Maria de Jesus (1914-1977) lived in a Sáo Paulo, Brazil, shanty slum, she survived by rummaging for junk. She also kept a diary of her abject poverty. Black, illegitimate, and poor, she suddenly became at age forty-six Brazil's best-selling author when a book drawn from her diaries appeared in 1960. An English translation, Child of the Dark, was published in 1962 and sold over 300,000 copies in the United States in a decade. Newsweek heralded her book as "a desperate, terrifying outcry from the slums of Sáo Paulo . . . one of the most astonishing documents of the lower depths ever printed."

Collaborating with a Brazilian colleague, Levine tells the story of Carolina's life, giving particular emphasis to the years following her publishing success, and engages in a provocative debate over what Carolina's life reveals about such issues as racism in Brazil, the rigidity of the country's class system, and the process of constructing an identity amid constant degradation and poverty.


Robert M. Levine is director of the Center for Latin American Studies, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida.

Historian José Carlos Sebe Bom Meihy, of the University of São Paulo, is a co-founder of the Brazilian Oral History Association.

Lyman L. Johnson is professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is also the general editor for UNM Press's Dialogos series.


"This is an intriguing and thought-provoking biography. . . . Levine and Sebe offer a poignant and provocative study. . . ."


MultiCultural Review

"(The authors') reconstruction of her life story is compelling reading. . . . Strongly recommended."



"A haunting chronicle of hunger . . . a dramatic document of the dispossessed that both shocks and moves the reader."


New York Herald Tribune

"It is a minor classic--because it is one of the very few books that have ever been written about the lowest and poorest, les misérables by one of themselves. Her book contains the seldom-told truth which inspires in some compassion, in some revulsion, and in others revolution."



6 x 9 in. 176 pages 18 halftones, 1 map