In the dozen years Carolina Maria de Jesus (1914-1977) lived in a São Paulo, Brazil, shanty slum, she survived by rummaging for junk. She also kept a diary of her abject poverty. Black, illegitimate, and poor, she suddenly became at age forty-six Brazil's best-selling author when a book drawn from her diaries appeared in 1960. An English translation, Child of the Dark, was published in 1962 and sold over 300,000 copies in the United States in a decade. Newsweek heralded her book as "a desperate, terrifying outcry from the slums of São Paulo . . . one of the most astonishing documents of the lower depths ever printed."
Collaborating with a Brazilian colleague, Levine tells the story of Carolina's life, giving particular emphasis to the years following her publishing success, and engages in a provocative debate over what Carolina's life reveals about such issues as racism in Brazil, the rigidity of the country's class system, and the process of constructing an identity amid constant degradation and poverty.