Child of the Dark

Publication of her diary

Carolina Maria De Jesus' diary was published in August 1960. She was discovered by journalist Audalio Dantas in April 1958. He was covering the opening of a small municipal playground and immediately following the ceremonies, a street gang moved in and claimed the area, chasing the children away. Dantas saw Carolina standing at the edge of the playground shouting, "Leave, or I'll put you in my book!" The intruders departed. Dantas asked what she meant about her book; she was shy at first, but took him to her shack and showed him everything. He asked for a small sample and subsequently ran it in the newspaper.

Carolina's story "electrified the town," and in 1960, Quarto de Despejo (The Garbage Place), was published. It became the most successful book in Brazilian publishing history. Although written in the simple, inelegant language of a favelada, her diary was translated into thirteen languages and became a bestseller in North America and Europe. It was published in the United States and the UK as Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, in 1962. The book was heavily edited by Dantas, and some critics suspected that the diary was a fraud; but the original manuscript was preserved and reprinted whole in 1999, proving that not only did Carolina write it herself, but that she was a much livelier and more poetic writer than Dantas' edition seemed to present.

This came as a surprise to her town as well as the country. Many of Carolina's neighbors knew about her writings before the publication and would tease and ridicule her. "Most couldn't even read, but thought she should be doing other things with her spare time than writing and saving old writings." As much as people poked fun at her writings, this publication "electrified" the town and more than 30,000 copies were sold in the first three days. People demanded the shipment of more copies all across Brazil. Along with the large amount of publicity and popularity that the diary created, Carolina became a social victim, especially in her local town.

Carolina Maria De Jesus' diary detailed the grim reality of her life as well as that around her. She judged her neighbors for their lifestyle, using their actual names and circumstances in the book. "You wrote bad things about me, you did worse than I did," shouted a drunken neighbor. Many neighbors despised Carolina because she seemed to look down upon the town people's way of life. One man "screamed at her that she was a 'black whore' who had become rich by writing about favelados but refused to share any of her money with them."[4] As well as cruel words, people would throw rocks and full chamber pots at her and her children. People were also angry because she moved into a brick house in the suburbs with the first proceeds of her diary. "Neighbors swarmed around the truck and wouldn't let her leave. 'You think you are high class now, don't you'" they would scream. The local neighbors despised her for what they saw as disparagement of their way of life, even though a major achievement of her diary was to increase the knowledge of these favelas around the world:

When I die I don't want to be reborn It is horrible, to put up with humanity That has a noble appearance That covers up its terrible qualities I noted that humanity Is perverse, is tyrannical Self-seeking egoists Who handle things politely But all is hypocrisy They are uncultivated, and trickers.

Carolina also raised awareness of the favelas' conditions. Local politicians wanted to meet with Carolina and discuss some of her points. The governor of São Paulo, Prestes Maia, tried to begin the involvement of agencies to create poor relief. Most of these projects were dedicated to teach women how to sew, care properly of their children and teach good hygiene. This was a step in the right direction though these projects quickly faded.


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