Book Review: Daytripper

A secene from the novel. (Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá)

I spent this last weekend in Athens, GA. In between drinking and setting off fireworks in a pool (fun and awesome!), I made my way down to Bizarro Wuxtry, the comics shop/general haven of weirdness that lives above regular Wuxtry, the music store where REM got its start. (I can’t hear well, and I don’t own a record player, so I prefer the bookstore.) I bought American Born Chinese but had to return it because a page was torn. Not wanting to disappoint the comic store clerk, I picked up Daytripper.

The graphic novel, written by two twin brothers, is set in São Paulo, Brazil. It tracks the life of a man named Brás de Olivia Domingos, who wants to be a novelist but writes obituaries for a living. Each chapter of the book follows him through an important life event, tracking what his obituary would read like if he died after it. The events span most of his life, and are united thematically rather than chronologically. Some of the events are real and some are imaginary; the distinction isn’t clear.

By the end of the book you have a pretty complete picture of his life, including Brás’ long-term and complicated relationships with his best friend Jorge, various women, and his father, a famous novelist in whose shadow he lives. Though not the most compelling narrative in the world (it’s a dreamy sort of book), the stories are interesting and allow you to see a bunch of different snapshots of Brazil.

Visually, the book’s great. The art is pen and watercolor, and the book is in full color. The authors are from São Paulo themselves, and there’s a note about how they love the city in the end of the book–it shows. The colors of the town and the people in it are amazing. The book is worth the price for the art alone, particularly the chapter that takes place in a beach town in Salvador during a festival–the beach scenes are wonderful.

Though I liked the book a lot as a book, it was most personally rewarding for the anthropological look into Brazil. Anthropologists freaking love Brazil because it’s an incredibly diverse country with very different conceptions of race than the US. It has a lot of race and class issues that the folks there are hesitant to talk about due to a national view of Brazil as a post-racial society. Brás, the protagonist, is white; Jorge, his best friend and a college-educated photographer, is black. The way that race runs through the narrative, particularly in the chapter where other Brazilians won’t believe that Brás isn’t a tourist, is interesting. You get the sense that racial segregation is present, but it manifests itself in different ways than in the US.

At any rate, it was interesting to see a Brazilian perspective on Brazil. Somewhat frustratingly, my anthro classes which had a Brazilian focus almost never included the work of Brazilians writing about themselves, despite the fact that there are Brazilian anthropologists and sociologists doing work in the country. However, I got the sense that I had at least not been lied to by the non-Brazilian writing–things like folk religious festivals that my professors had done field work on actually made appearances in the book.

If you’re interested in Brazil, race in Latin America, or beautiful watercolor, the book’s definitely worth grabbing. Just ignore that the cover review is by Gerard Way.

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