I really didn’t like the book I had chosen for Brazil, and it didn’t help that it was 521 pages long. I tried to keep plugging away, but when I was about halfway through, I finally threw in the towel and decided to choose another book.
I’m so glad I did! Otherwise, I would not have discovered Adriana Lisboa and her wonderful book, Crow Blue, translated by Alison Entrekin. The book’s main character, Vanja (short for Evangelina), is a thirteen-year-old girl who leaves her home in Rio de Janeiro when her mother dies, and moves to Lakewood, Colorado, to live with her mother’s ex-husband, Fernando. He and her mother divorced long before Vanja was born, but Fernando agrees to let Vanja live with him and help her find her father.
Fernando was originally from Brazil too, where he was a Communist guerrilla fighting against the military dictatorship. While most of Crow Blue focuses on Vanja’s new life in the United States, there are flashbacks to the guerrilla days that Fernando left behind.
In Colorado, Vanja befriends a nine-year-old neighbor boy, Carlos, whose family is from El Salvador. She helps him with his homework, and gives him a safe and happy place to spend his spare time. Carlos has lived in Colorado for as long as he can remember, but the concern that he and his family will be sent back to El Salvador because they “didn’t have papeles” is never far from his mind. Vanja and Fernando take Carlos with them on a week-long road trip to New Mexico, which deepens the bond among the three of them.
Crow Blue is more than just a coming-of-age book. It’s a heartwarming story of how three exiles from other lives and other places can become a family of their own.
Since most of Crow Blue is set in the United States, Brazilian food doesn’t really factor into the plot. So the dish I chose to make for this post is one that was mentioned in the book I tried to read first. The dish is called feijoada, and it’s a Brazilian stew that’s usually made with meat. Fortunately, I found a Jamie Oliver recipe for a vegetarian version and decided to make that. I didn’t have to do much to veganize the recipe – I just substituted a dollop of vegan sour cream for the yogurt on top of the stew. The bigger challenge was trying to translate a British recipe into terminology and measurements that can be understood in a U.S. kitchen. For the record, a courgette is a zucchini, and I converted the ingredients that were listed in grams as follows:
· Rice – since the stew is served over the rice, there was no need for a precise conversion. I just cooked a cup of brown rice according to the package instructions.
· Sweet potato – 200 grams is a little less than half a pound.
· Kidney beans – actually, I substituted black beans, which are more likely to appear in a Brazilian dish, and I used the whole 15-ounce can.
· Fresh coriander (cilantro) – I used about a fourth of a cup, finely chopped
· Vegan yogurt or sour cream – it’s just a dollop on top of a bowl of stew, so no measurement conversion was necessary.
It turned out quite well, although it’s a dish better suited to the fall or winter, rather than these warm late spring days that we’re having in Sacramento!
In Crow Blue, Fernando and other resistance fighters live and train in the state of Pará, a vast, forested area near the Amazon River. It’s described as being “…almost big enough for two Frances. Three Japans. Two Spains and a bit. More than one thousand, six hundred Singapores.” Since the time when Fernando was there, however, forests have been cleared in obscene numbers. “Amazon forests continue being cleared to the order of one Belgium a year, basically for cattle farming. The miracle of the transubstantiation of forest into beef. (Soy? It too is transubstantiated. It is exported and becomes cattle fodder in rich countries.)”
When I looked for projects in Brazil on the GlobalGiving website, I was happy to find Forests4Water Brazil, which is a community reforestation project administered by an organization called Iracambi. According to the project summary, this organization has already planted 100,000 native rainforest trees, and they have plans to plant another 10,000 this year. It may not be possible to undo the damage that’s already been done to the Amazonian rainforest, but I wanted my donation for Brazil to be used to help correct the mistakes of the past.
More information about the Forests4Water Brazil reforestation project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/forests-4-water/.
NEXT STOP: BULGARIA
(Originally published on May 28, 2017.)
Pam Giarrizzo is a retired attorney who loves traveling, reading, and giving. She isn’t particularly fond of cooking, but she nevertheless reads, cooks, and gives for her armchair travel blog, The Booktrekker. Pam and her husband Phil live in Northern California, but they travel to Colombia often to visit their California-born son, their Argentine daughter-in-law, and their Colombian grandson. You can explore the world with Pam by following her blog at The Booktrekker or on Facebook at The Booktrekker | Facebook.