Geovani Martins is a name that I’d not heard of before, but it is a name I shall always remember – with The Sun On My Head he announces himself to the masses with a collection that is dripping with relevant and important themes such as masculinity, corruption, poverty and resilience in the face of adversity.
It’s unflinching in its prose, fiction told in a unique and most beguiling style, about a place we all know well, a place which at times seems to be hampered by our worldview, one which is shrouded in fear and violence.
The perception of the favelas taught to us in schools and the media, favelas full of poverty and violence, a stain which can’t be washed away, or removed without damaging the garment and the lives beneath – is a different one from which Martins talks about and exposes in many of his stories, the themes are there, bubbling under the surface, but he changes our perception of this place we’ve heard so much about, writing with a passion about the hope that resides there too and the many lives that remain voiceless in the din of poverty.
With The Sun On My Head, Giovani Martins examines the lives of those who have lived there, who still live there, and who are finding a way to exist in the chaos, corruption and violence. Martins doesn’t shrink away from these issues, but in fact focuses on these stereotypes and archetypes – with each story being full of hope, of resilience, of dreams and fears – creating a most enchanting collection, which focuses on lives under the microscope and of how a place can shape a person.
‘Walking over those white sand hills was amazing. How long had all those grains of sand been heaped up like that? What was the ancient form of each of those little granules, dispersed around the world, before they’d experienced their great transformation? How many rocks, crumbled by time, were needed to birth a dune?’
Many of the stories within The Sun On My Head follow the lives of the favelas inhabitants, many embroiled in a life of smoking weed, taking drugs, turning to crime as a way of negotiating the harsh hand they’ve been dealt – trying to survive or escape their lives any way they can. There is a sense that the lives catalogued brilliantly by Martins depict the pain and struggle of growing up in a world that makes men of children before they’ve had a chance to experience childhood, adolescence and a life without crime and the punishment the inevitably follows.
‘The night offered protection to anyone who didn’t want to explain their addiction. To those walking past outside in the dark, everybody on the train tracks was nameless, faceless – just a bunch of addicts.’
The sense of place seems to haunt the very pages of this book, the favelas and the surrounding unregulated neighbourhood loom large, desolate and bleak. It’s a place that you’ve been taught about in school, or from glassy eyed reporters, detailing the ongoing crime and corruption that spoils the very soil. But in Martins hands this sense of place is also enrapturing, unapologetic and full of the lives that haunt this landscape as silent ghosts. Martins is makes no excuses in his use of place. This is what it’s like. This is what I’ve lived through. He doesn’t paint a picture of a beautiful Brazil, but shows us the true Rio, warts and all – showcasing to the reader the gritty, desolate place he calls home and the many lives of those fighting for survival in the favelas.
‘And there’s something else, too, none of those Jaca junkies got teeth, her little velvet mouth would of swallowed you savage, no pain.’
The Sun On My Head is a broiling collection of intimate character driven short stories, from someone who knows the subject matter and the lives he’s catalogued with astute detail and care. A gripping read which explores life and the determination to survive it. A must read.
The Sun On My Head is published by Faber & Faber and is available here.
Geovani Martins was born in Bangu, in the West Zone of the city. He only studied until the eighth grade, then worked as a plate man and cafeteria attendant, among others. He lived in the slums of Rocinha and Barreira do Vasco , before going to Vidigal. Participated in the workshops of the Literary Festival of the Peripheries (Flup) in 2013 and 2015 . In 2015 he presented at FLIP the magazine Setor X , which published texts of himself and other writers from Rio’s favelas.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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