Summary and book reviews of Heliopolis by James Scudamore

Heliopolis

By James Scudamore

Heliopolis
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  • Paperback: Oct 2010,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

Born in a São Paulo shantytown, Ludo undergoes a remarkable transformation from one side of the city’s impermeable social divide to the other. Rescued and raised by a plutocrat, Zeno Generoso, Ludo finds himself entrenched in the gated, guarded community of the super-rich.

Now twenty-seven, Ludo works for a vacuous “communications company” that markets unwanted, unaffordable products aimed at the very underclass into which he was born and from which he escaped. To make matters more complicated, he has developed an obsessive, adulterous love for his adoptive sister, whose husband is his only friend.

Ludo’s involvement in an ill-conceived supermarket launch aimed at the favela’s desperately poor population risks embroiling him in a world of violence and brutality. By turns darkly humorous and poignant, James Scudamore’s Booker Prize-nominated novel is a highly original, surprising take on the rags-to-riches story.

Orange Juice

It’s early, not yet seven a.m., and once again I’m waking up beside my adoptive sister.

This has got to stop. She’s a married woman.

The air-conditioning is on high, and my head feels like it’s immersed in freezing water, even though Melissa’s body is cleaving to mine wherever it can, making me hot and clammy beneath the covers. I sit up, and reach for the remote control that operates the blinds. They track smoothly upwards and the city, bile yellow, pours in from every direction.

Melissa’s penthouse is at the head of a long avenue that bisects the Garden District straight through to the smogcloaked towers of downtown. From up here you look down on the treetops and the green parakeets that flit between them. At night gridlocked traffic lights up the avenue in glittering ribbons of red and white. During big football matches, when a goal is scored, the fireworks burst silently beneath you.

I stretch and lie back to ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Scudamore is unafraid of exploring difficult subjects--the patronizing nature of so-called philanthropy, the discomfort of not belonging, the independence that charity takes away, the uncertainty of how to help another person without being insulting, who owes what to whom--and his writing is at its strongest when he offers no solutions to these social conflicts. Instead, he freely examines the raw feelings of shame, stifled anger, and apathy that plague his characters. Scudamore respects the complexities of the social dynamics and does not try to oversimplify these relationships...   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

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Media Reviews
The Independent (UK)

Scudamore is a good enough writer that you want to read more, but it would have been nice to have had that 'more' right here.

The Guardian (UK)

James Scudamore again achieves something magical with the Booker-longlisted Heliopolis.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Scudamore has the superb novelist’s gift for giving vivid, sympathetic life to even second-string characters, as well as his main ones; and he also has the extraordinary power of summoning an entire brooding, smoggy city to life. Most of all, though, he has the ability to take on the heaviest of themes with the lightest and most compelling of touches, and leave you with an appetite for more.

Booklist

[Scudamore] vividly portrays a city based on São Paulo, with its haves (living in a gated city) and its more populous have-nots, as he tells Ludo’s story in flashbacks and explores the issue of belonging...this pulses with the vibrance—and occasional violence—of city life.

Publishers Weekly

Issues of race and class spark a wily, layered, and savvy narrative where nods to Great Expectations coexist nicely with Scudamore's morbid humor and blistering social commentary.

Library Journal

The result is a richly detailed, beautifully executed work that should move readers deeply.

Shelf Awareness

Booker-nominated Heliopolis is a ravishing, sprawling Dickensian love story where super-rich collide with super-poor in a banquet of a book.

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Beyond the Book

Brazil's Favelas
In his novel Heliopolis, James Scudamore candidly describes the favelas of Brazil as poor shantytown communities; "from a distance, you can't imagine anyone living in such a place: the area has the chaotic texture of a landfill site, a rubbish dump… dense thickets of unofficial power lines; walls and roofs of remaindered breeze-block and stolen brick and found-iron sheeting and repurposed doors; structures that should never work but somehow do because they must". His descriptions are by no means exaggerated. Favelas are often populated by people who illegally occupy lands on the outskirts of Brazil's larger cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Homes are made from scrap materials and ...

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