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Professor edits book exploring Brazil's culture as world turns eyes to nation

Friday, March 25, 2016

LAWRENCE — The world has turned its attention to Brazil in recent years, first as its economy boomed, then as it hosted the 2014 World Cup, and now as it is set to host the Summer Olympics. While the abundance of international attention has generated much interest in Brazil, much about the large, complex nation remains unknown. A University of Kansas professor has co-edited a book designed to educate students, travelers, business professionals and anyone interested in the nation about the largest country in South America.

Antonio Luciano Tosta, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, co-edited “Latin America in Focus: Brazil” with Eduardo F. Coutinho. The book takes an all-encompassing look at Brazil and is suited for readers outside of a classroom.

“The idea of the book is to take advantage of the momentum of Brazil, first with the World Cup and now with the Olympics. It’s very interdisciplinary and brings together writing on the country’s history, geography, politics, race relations, literature, cinema, music, sports, social issues and much more,” Tosta said. “I don’t think there is anything else as comprehensive and up-to-date as this book on the market.”

“Brazil” can be used either as a textbook for high school and undergraduate-level students, travelers intending to take part in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics or those looking to invest in an up-and-coming economy. The book begins with a chapter dedicated to geography, which breaks down the nation’s five distinct regions, paying specific attention to each state as well as the major cities.

Brazil has a history largely similar to that of the United States, and the authors trace it from colonization by the Portuguese in the 16th century through independence in 1822, its era of military dictatorship and democratic Brazil from 1985 to today. The following chapter explores government and politics, examining the long and varied history of government throughout each period. The text does not shy away from controversy, exploring the competing political parties, corruption and ongoing political scandals involving current president Dilma Rousseff and her immediate predecessor.

The economy is detailed at length as well, starting from the export-driven system of colonial Brazil to democratization and recent globalization, chronicling the country’s rise to the world’s eighth-largest economy and including a look at recent recession and ongoing development.

Brazilian society is extensively chronicled in a chapter with several sub-chapters dedicated to several topics: 

  • Religion and thought, which explores indigenous faiths as well as Catholicism, Protestantism and religious scenarios of today
  • Social classes and ethnicity
  • Gender, marriage and sexuality, including the role of the family and women
  • Education, ranging from childhood to higher learning.

A good deal of the text is dedicated to culture in a chapter that sheds light on a nation rich with cultural heritage. Beginning with language, the chapter dispels the myth that Brazil is a monolingual country by examining the more than 200 languages spoken there. It looks at the role of Brazil in promoting Portuguese in the world and even the different variations of the language spoken within the nation. The role of the family in Brazilian society is detailed as well from the earliest Brazilians through single-parent families of contemporary society and taboos as well as the effects of an aging society.

The arts, including literature, drama, visual arts, music and cinema, are covered thoroughly, spanning from the earliest forms of each to highlighting national and international successes in forms such as samba to more regionally popular forms of song and dance. Architecture, food, leisure and sports all receive their due as well, each section touching on both the well-known, such as Brazil’s remarkable success in soccer — including more World Cup championships than any other nation — to more regional fare and forms gaining international popularity such as jiu-jitsu and capoeira.

The book’s final chapter delves into contemporary issues and how the nation handles and responds to a variety of hot-button issues, including abortion and family planning, drugs, racism and nationalism, as well as bigger issues such as how the nation handles international events and whether the nation is truly developing or will always remain “the country of the future.”

The authors who contributed to the book’s chapters are all Brazilians or North Americans who have an intimate familiarity with the country. Many, such as Coutinho, are scholars at American and Brazilian universities. Others, such as architecture chapter author Doriane Meyer, a master’s student in KU's School of Architecture, Design & Planning, are up-and-coming scholars. Tosta, a native Brazilian naturalized American who studies the nation’s literature and culture, also teaches classes on the country’s history and role in the contemporary global society. He says there are plans to have a second edition with updates in the future. He has also finished a book titled “Confluence Narratives: Ethnicity, History, and Nation Making in the Americas,” which is forthcoming with Bucknell University Press and was awarded KU’s 2016 Vice Chancellor for Research Book Publication Award. In 2011 he co-edited “Luso-American Literature: Writings by Portuguese-Speaking Authors in North America” with Robert Moser.

“Brazil is an important country in terms of economy, arts, history, sports and is a major partner of the United States in many areas,” Tosta said. “There are more than one million Brazilians living in the United States. We have a shared colonial history, and our many similarities and shared experiences make for very valuable comparisons.”

Also see: Seven facts you didn't know about Brazil.