In Brazil by Fran Bryson

Fran Bryson’s In Brazil is not so much a travel book as it is a collection of experiences carefully woven in to a love story of deep intrigue. For seven years Bryson travels through Brazil while taking us from the epicentres of modern Brazil to the remote and spiritual places that continue to flavour Brazilian life.

In order truly understand why Bryson falls in love with Brazil you first need to know about her life in Australia. Growing up on Flinders Island (with a population of around 800) set a slow and contemplative pace of life. By comparison Brazil has a population of 200 million. But more important is the cultural difference she explores: a Western upbringing focusing on individuality and normality, and one that thrives on the bizarre and a connection with people.

“I was yet to learn that Brazilians do nothing by halves.”

This is a theme that permeates her entire experience. You can feel the affect it has on her in the omnipresent surprise of Brazilian hoteliers, cab drivers and tour guides when they question Bryson “alone?” As though it is unthinkable for someone (let alone a woman) to want to travel without family and friends. This is just one of the comparisons between Australia and Brazil that flow through her book.

Her journey, rather than being a chronological account, is punctuated by “wondrous” events. A feeling, she explains, that is a kind of out of body experience, so pleasurable that it simply cannot and should not, be fully understood. Bryson is clear to explain this early on which is important because it gives us an insight into her almost scientific inquisitiveness of Brazilian life, one that continues to colour her entire experience.

“At street parties, and at Carnaval, I have often wondered at the sheer determination of Brazilians to have fun. I have wondered if, perhaps, they are biologically compelled to have fun.”

In Brazil explores a place, a people and their history. From horrendous crimes that would rather be forgotten to bizarre religious healing rituals; Bryson creates an account of Brazil that is too wild to be fiction. While these stories might hook you, it’s Bryson’s philosophy that keeps you reading. Not the kind found in dusty tomes but the kind that questions the quirks of fate (or for those of you less romantic; biological randomness).

Travel is good for pleasure, for leisure, and to learn about new cultures, but it is also through travelling – and this was one big revelation for me – that we can better see who we are not, who we might have been.”

Image Attribution: Scribe Publications