Nemesis by Misha Glenny
This factual story caught me by surprize as I didn’t expect it to be quite as good as it was.
Antonio Francisco Bonfirm Lopes was born into poverty and hardship in Rio de Janeiro. Events conspired to drive him into the world of organised crime where he quickly rose to become Don of the largest favela, or slum, in the city. He was known to all simply as Nem.
Nemesis is based upon meticulous research conducted by the author, as well as a number of in-depth interviews secured with Nem, who today resides in the Federal prison facility of Campo Grandes.
Glenny presents, to the reader, a clear assessment of a complex man who began life as a relatively innocent person, in gainful employment, only to find himself forced into the ubiquitous gang culture that rules the almost 1000 favelas of Rio. He provides not only details on Nem’s entire life, but also gives us a history of settlement in Rio, as well as an explanation for the gang culture and the introduction of hard drugs in the 1980’s.
What emerges from this presentation is an absolutely fascination insight into a side of Rio that is usually off-limits to all but the most observant and informed of the favela-dwellers.
Nem worked initially as a team-leader in the distribution of a T.V. listings magazine. A low paid job, but one that covered his bills and allowed himself and his wife to provide for their baby. But tragedy struck the young family when his daughter was diagnosed with a terrible illness. Nem and his wife were unable to pay all the growing medical bills or get the necessary quality care that the baby required for survival, and so Nem felt he had no option but to borrow money from the Don – at that time, Luciano Barbosa da Silva (Brazilians have great names) – known to everyone as Lulu. Such an arrangement meant that Nem had little choice but to work for Lulu in his various criminal enterprizes. So began Nem’s steady immersion into the world of serous crime.
What followed is a truly remarkable tale of murder, mayhem and intrigue. We have Colombians, communist fighters and organisations, corrupt cops, conscientious cops, corrupt politicians, more corrupt cops and even more corrupt politicians. And beautiful women.
Throw in a FIFA World Cup Finals and the Olympics, as well as the ever present rivalries between the favelas, and the infighting and scheming within individual favelas, and you have some idea of what Nemesis is all about. I found the information regarding the history and structures of Rochina, Rio’s largest favela and the homeplace of Nem, to be of particular interest.
(Rochina – Rio’s largest favela with a population of almost 100,000)
Tourist Boards should make this obligatory reading for anyone intent on visiting Brazil. I learned more from this small volume than from everything else that I have ever read on Brazil, combined (granted, I have read very little on Brazil).
So for those of you who might be interested in visiting this Marvelous City (Cidade Maravilhosa), I would strongly recommend that you pick up this book and embrace the details inside that few other tomes will provide. It will even tell you of a nightclub that, for the party animals among you, is not to be missed. What more do you want?
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. Been to Brazil? Going to Brazil? Interested in Brazil? Then this is the book for you.