By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Michael Kepp’s second book of personal chronicles, Tropeços Nos Trópicos – Crônicas de um Gringo Brasileiro (Stumbling in the Tropics – Tales of a Brazilian Gringo) was released last week. Following the success of his first book Sonhando com Sotaque (Dreaming with an Accent), his latest collection of essays takes a closer look at the differences between Brazilian and American culture.
Born in the mid-western city of St. Louis, Missouri in 1950, Michael Kepp is an American who has lived in Brazil for the past 28 years. He escaped from the U.S. at the age of eighteen, on the run from a country “obsessed with wealth and status”.
“When I lived in the States the first thing people would ask is, ‘what do you do?’ And immediately they would be figuring out your socio-economic background and making judgments about who you are. I hated that.”
He now considers himself “suspended at the frontier between the two cultures.” For the last eight years he has worked as a columnist for the Folho de São Paulo, commenting on his experiences of life as “a Brazilian gringo”.
“People are interested in me because I’m unusual. I write about myself from a personal point of view… I bare my soul… It’s this that sets me apart from other contemporary Brazilian essayists.”
The book is divided into five sections. The first – Confessions – comprises stories about his successes and failures in his attempt to assimilate into life in Brazil. The second talks about the differences between the two countries.
Two further sections discuss what he likes and dislikes about each of the countries, and the fifth – the Contemplative Chronicles – divulges some of the secrets Kepp has learned about life in the course of his 61 years.
“Some will make you laugh, some will make you cry, some might make you angry and some will make you think. Every essay has to do one of these or it’s a failure,” he says.
Kepp is warm, talkative and interested in everything, and he is not afraid to be polemical. The book, written in Portuguese, is aimed at Brazilians and Portuguese speakers with an interest in Brazilian culture.
He has refused offers to have the book published in English in the U.S. saying, “The book wouldn’t work in such a self-centered country… most Americans aren’t interested in any society except their own.”
One gets the impression that his disillusionment with the U.S. hasn’t waned in the 28 years since he arrived in Rio. He has been back there just twice in the last thirteen years. He keeps in touch with American culture via, “Friends, newspapers, books, movies – movies tell you a lot about what goes on in a culture… but I admit it is a bit of a drawback.”
Kepp’s unique take on life, his willingness to expose himself and his astute observations provide fascinating material for what is an intelligent and witty read. Tropeços Nos Trópicos is out now in book shops in Rio and São Paulo.