AFTER LIFE by Tobias Hecht


An Ethnographic Novel
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Hecht takes a second look at Brazilian street children (following At Home in the Street, 2002) in this combination of fiction and anthropology.

Much of the ethnographic material flows from an adolescent Hecht met during his three trips to Brazil, as he acknowledges upfront: “portions based on the narrations of Bruna Veríssimo.” His introduction primes us for a rich cultural exchange, so it’s disheartening that the long opening section focuses on Zoë’s personal problems, Zoë being a 36-year-old American anthropologist on her second trip to Recife in northeast Brazil. Nine years before, doing research on street kids, she had kept her emotional distance until meeting little Beto; him, she wanted to mother. Now Zoë has a Ph.D., a book published and is back on a sabbatical to write about “home” children, the ones in shacks. But first we must hear about her mother’s death from cancer, her depression, her visit to the shrink for antidepressants, etc. By the time she meets Beto again, she has lost interest in her project, though why it’s not clear. Beto is now a transvestite known as Aparecida. We get her life story (those promised “portions”). She was raped by her stepfather. She misses her family, but returning home is impossible. Street life is dangerous. She is forced to have sex with cops at gunpoint. She sniffs glue. She hates herself (“I was a form of waste”). She has a talent for drawing. When her work is exhibited, she reacts negatively, seeing herself as “a monkey . . . on display.” There are other missed opportunities. Hecht’s stated goal (to use fiction as a way into Aparecida’s mind) collapses when Zoë admits she has no idea what the transvestite thinks.

Poorly organized and emotionally unsatisfying.

Pub Date: March 30th, 2006
ISBN: 0-8223-3750-9
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Duke Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2006