In this debut collection, a Brazilian writer explores life in Rio's favelas, where every day is shadowed by a ubiquitous drug culture, the constant threat of the police, and the confines of poverty, violence, and racial oppression.
Drugs and poverty color them, but these brief voice-driven stories are firmly about the hopes and desires of the young men of Rio. With slang-laden, boldly voiced prose that grounds readers in a unique place, Martins transports readers to the streets and beaches of Rio. In much the way that Edward P. Jones’ writing breathes life into the Washington D.C. that lies beyond Pennsylvania Avenue, Martins’ stories animate and humanize the people of a city whose humanity is often obscured by its own reputation.
Martins shows us that the language of the favelas is just as legitimate as the language of the academy, keeping 'literature' true to everyday form. Julia Sanches preserves this legitimacy in English, delivering a carefully crafted translation filled with colloquialisms, slang, and Portuguese. The result is...a wild ride that exposes us to the complexities of life in the periphery and the complexities of translating that life from one language into another ... Each recollection is more of a vignette than a full-fledged story, where image (rather than plot) holds the metaphor. Though these images are strikingly clear, they (intentionally) leave us with minimal resolution—with an uncertainty as to how these characters endure, or overcome, the situations that they do. The favela, the morro, the barraco: these are complex, distinctly Brazilian, places. Readers who are familiar with them will have an easier time navigating Martins’s text, while those who aren’t might find themselves a bit lost ... This is a book that lives on the streets, among the people of Rio’s favelas. And life there doesn’t slow down just because we might be unfamiliar with it.
... while the stories in The Sun on My Head offer a vibrant and modern view of life in Rio’s favelas, the writing lacks the precision and craft of authors such as Junot Díaz, Daniel Alarcón and fellow Brazilian Adriana Lisboa ... Martins struggles with endings. His stories mostly jolt to a finish, or occasionally spring an unearned epiphany on reader and character. They are fleeting snapshots of favela life, usually from the perspective of young male characters whose struggles range from finding 'bud' and caring for infants to disposing of bodies. Yet if the aim of Martins’s writing is to give a flavour of how fraught it is to grow up in a hugely underprivileged community of the 'Broken City,' he has achieved this in his book. There are many strengths to his storytelling, not least a way with color and energy that bring most settings and scenarios to life ... Martins is good at dialogue, particularly the back and forth between authorities and the young men they so obviously fail to protect ... Elsewhere, narrative flow is halted by clunky descriptions ... Frequent tense shifting seems arbitrary rather than related to the text, and occasionally an awkward metaphor or description takes us away from the narrator and into a more judgmental authorial voice ... The collection really shines when it comes to setting. Martins is an evocative writer who knows his city well.