Christiana Mara Coelho was born into extreme poverty in Brazil. After spending the first seven years of her life with her loving mother in the forest caves outside São Paulo and then on the city streets, where they begged for food, she and her younger brother were suddenly put up for adoption. When one door closed on the only life Christiana had ever known and on the woman who protected her with all her heart, a new one opened.
As Christina Rickardsson, she’s raised by caring adoptive parents in Sweden, far from the despairing favelas of her childhood. Accomplished and outwardly “normal,” Christina is also filled with rage over what she’s lost and having to adapt to a new reality while struggling with the traumas of her youth. When her world falls apart again as an adult, Christina returns to Brazil to finally confront her past and unlock the truth of what really happened to Christiana Mara Coelho.
This is a heartbreaking story of a child living in extreme poverty on the streets in Brazil. The things that happen to her are horrific including witnessing the murder of her best friend by the police, seeing numerous rapes, and killing another child in a fight over food.
Because this all happened as a child she didn’t clearly know or remember the reasons why they lived like they did. All she knew was that her mother loved her and her little brother but that there were also times when she wasn’t around. The children were taken to an orphanage where they were eventually not allowed to have contact with their mother and then were adopted by a couple from Sweden. Nothing that was going on was explained to her.
As an adult she decides to go back to Brazil to try to find her mother and to find out what really happened to make sense of her childhood memories.
She examines the disconnect she feels about being grateful for her good life in Sweden that wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t forcibly taken from her mother but also being angry about being separated from the person who loved her.
The book is very simply written or translated. That makes it a very stark read. It is very sad but I think it is necessary to know what is going on in the poorest parts of society. Once again in reading this book I was struck by how often male sexual violence towards women and children is considered to be an everyday thing. I hate knowing that there are women who have to submit to being raped because they are told that it is her or her child. Books like this just make me want to have a moratorium on men for a while.
“A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.”
Our hero lives a small life. He doesn’t pay much attention to the outside world. He works part time at a video store that specializes in obscure foreign films that no one wants to rent. He had a girlfriend once but she left him to go marry the man her family chose. He has one friend.
When the bill comes it is a shock. Why would he owe 500,000 kronor (about $55,000)? Who does he owe it to? He calls the number on the bill and finds out.
Everyone in the world is being charged a fee for the happiness in their lives.
He has the largest bill in Sweden. He’s sure there has to be a mistake. He is allowed to appeal and this starts an investigation about whether he truly is the happiest man in Sweden.
I related to the man in this story. He doesn’t have a life that anyone would objectively describe as great from the outside but he is satisfied with his situation. As much as I come across as sarcastic and cynical at first glance, I’m actually a happy person. It pains me to say it. I don’t want to be an optimist but it seems to be a fact. I was told this in no uncertain terms by my ex-husband. In fact, he listed it as one of my major flaws. “You’re happy in whatever situation you’re in,” he spat at me in true anger. He took that to be a character flaw that led to my lack of desire for social climbing. Recently, I had lunch with a former coworker. At one point she said to me, “You don’t like to seem like it, but you’re nice” in a tone usually reserved for statements like, “You are a horrible racist pig.”
Another thing that raised the hero’s bill was his ability to see the best in situations and to learn from them. I’m afraid that in both of the above situations I was thinking as they happened that each was going to make a wonderful story. When my husband complains about the time in St. Thomas when I almost had us fall off a cliff into the ocean at night I always respond, “We had an adventure!” Oh, I am so screwed when my happiness bill comes due.
This is a great short story about finding out what is truly valuable in life.
What do you think that your happiness bill would be?