Monday, October 19, 2009

Heliopolis, James Scudamore

Posted by lea at 4:50 PM
Heliopolis is a gritty book told from the point of view of Ludo dos Santos, a baby born in the slums, who eventually becomes adopted by one of the wealthiest families in São Paulo. Straddling the chasm between the two classes, Ludo's is a mind that is not at ease with his good fortune. He, more than ever, recognises the fucked up state of the world, where people from the favela (city slums) struggle for scraps while the rich avoid traffic by flying overhead in personal helicopters, which has a particularly personal bearing on him as he struggles with a sense of unbelonging.

The story is well paced and interesting, and the rich, teeming pulse of São Paulo is as strong a character in this novel as any of the human-characters. However the real revelation is in the writing. James Scudamore is a brilliant writer. No other way to put it. From the first page you understand that you're in the hands of a master. He can take the reader where he wants us to go, so our journey takes us into the twists and turns of the struggling mind and partially-formed identity of Ludo, who is spared from being spoiled (despite all his money and opportunities) by his self-doubt, constant self-scrutiny and lack of identity. Alternating chapters take us from his present world (sleeping with his married adopted sister, working in a job he hates, accidentally inciting a shooting) to glimpses of his past, and wondering about the mysterious father he never knew.

Heliopolis is a book about identity and belonging, written by a truly talented young writer. It's messed up but beautiful in its own way, as we see Ludo try to make sense of his place in the world.

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