From British writer Rambali, now a Paris-based TV documentary-maker: a vivid and atmospheric portrait of Brazil that unfortunately skates along the surface of its subject. Rambali conveys some of the sights and experiences of Brazil that escape more ponderous books: the lives of the poor in So Paulo; the lives and, too often, deaths of the extraordinary number of abandoned young children; a journey on the Trans-Amazon Highway, built with strategic abandon by the armed forces and still little used; and the smell of Brazil, ""the hot, sweet smell of baking sugar that wafts from the padarias, the bakeries and the coffee shops; and the smell of Gasohol, the potent mix of sugar-derived alcohol and gasoline that powers many of the cars."" Rambali also describes more customary phenomena -- TV, soccer, and the beaches -- and occasionally he finds novel ways to describe what he sees. Of the proximity of the poor favelas to the city of Rio, he notes that ""if you want to steal a television...you don't have to ride a bus for three hours."" As for businesses' learning to cope with inflation, he observes that airline tickets, which are refundable, have become a good hedge, with the result that empty airplanes take off. Generally, however, his insights are conventional (beyond the modern facades ""lies a raw, wild and still unsettled territory""), and Rambali apparently chooses not to go deep -- as in his dismissal of the complex, subtle, and endlessly fascinating subject of race relations in Brazil merely with the making of a repeated ironic contrast between the multiracial nature of the country and its supposed belief that it's a ""white nation."" In all, a good guide to how Brazil looks, smells, and feels; not so good on what makes it tick.