FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Brazilian author Luiz Ruffato grew up penniless, slept on the floor of a bus station for a month and shocks his fellow countrymen when he says that’s still the way it is despite Brazil becoming an economic powerhouse.
“When you walk through the streets of Brazil, you will see what you read in my books,” Ruffato, the son of an illiterate washerwoman and a popcorn seller, told Reuters in an interview at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Ruffato gave the fair’s opening speech last week which instead of praising Brazil and its achievements dwelt upon many of the themes that the 52-year-old addresses in his novels.
His themes are the consequences of rapid industrialization, social deprivation and the problems faced by women and homosexuals in his country.
In his early and still most famous work “There Were Many Horses”, published in 2001, he describes the chaos, violence, misery and decadence of mega-city Sao Paulo.
“We are still a country in which not everyone has the right to homes, education, healthcare and recreation. They are rather privileges for only a few,” he said in his keynote speech that shocked even some of his supporters.
“We are a paradox country,” he said.
Ruffato’s words were in sharp contrast to the Brazilian government’s official message of rapid economic development and opportunity for all. His work scarcely dwells on the clichés of modern Brazil - its beach culture, carnivals and caipirinha cocktails. His reality is different.
“Brazilian society raises a number of perspectives and mine is one of them,” he told Reuters following his keynote address, which earned him a standing ovation.
“Normally I don’t drink but tonight I have to,” he said with a smile, surrounded by people and visibly trying to shake off his nervousness.
Ruffato knows all too well what he is talking about. Coming from a small town in the state of Minas Gerais in eastern Brazil, he was lucky to receive an education.
That only happened when the director of a private school noticed Ruffato selling popcorn with his father and took him under his wing.
Later, Ruffato moved to Sao Paulo and slept at a bus station for about a month until he received his first pay check and could afford to pay for a bed in a boarding house.
Ruffato said he does not believe Brazilians’ outrage at their government has subsided yet following a wave of nationwide protests that rocked Brazil in June, because the inciting factors remain.
Just as Brazil hosted the Confederations Cup, a dry run for next year’s World Cup soccer tournament, more than a million people took to the streets.
They were livid about corruption, poor public services and billions of dollars of public money being spent on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, which are also to be held in Brazil.
Their patience ran out when the government raised the cost of tickets for public buses. The protests that followed were the biggest in Brazil since the end of military dictatorship during the late 80s.
“The outrage is still there, but it hasn’t yet developed into a real movement,” Ruffato said. “The potential that everything starts from scratch is there.”
According to Ruffato, 10 percent of Brazil’s white population controls 75 percent of its wealth. About 46,000 of Brazil’s 200 million people own half the land. And a third of adults are illiterate or nearly so.
“The American phenomenon that you can achieve anything if you only work hard doesn’t exist in Brazil,” Ruffato said. “I am a big exception.”
Editing by Michael Roddy and Tom Pfeiffer