By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Author, Michael Kepp will host a book launch and signing for his newest collection of personal essays, “Um pé em cada país” (A foot in each country), at Livraria da Travessa in Botafogo on Tuesday, November 24th. The book is the third in a series of collected essays by Kepp that compare the culture of the United States, Kepp’s homeland, with the culture of Brazil, his adopted home where he has now lived for over thirty years.
Kepp, who has worked for the Folho de São Paulo for over ten years as a columnist writing about his life as “a Brazilian gringo,” released his first book of essays, “Sonhando com Sotaque” (Dreaming with an Accent) in 2003. His second book, “Tropeços nos tropicos” (Stumbling in the tropics) followed in 2011.
When asked what he felt were the major change in both cultures since the release of his second book and what issues his focused on in this collection, Kepp said; “I don’t think that five years is a long enough time to see profound changes in a culture, unless it undergoes traumas, like the U.S. underwent after 9/11, which unfortunately made citizens of my mother country far more fearful and xenophobic.”
Adding “Brazil’s economy has gone up and down for many years, and its current ‘in the dumps’ phase now is not new enough or prolonged enough to cause profound cultural changes. Nor is corruption, which has helped erode the economy, new, even though its endemic nature seems more evident. That said, what I focus on are things about Brazilian culture that I simply haven’t noticed before or written about in previous books.”
Like his previous releases, the new book is written in Portuguese. Regarding an English edition, Kepp explained; “My American agent couldn’t get a big-name U.S. publisher interested in my proposal of a book of essays on Brazil because they wanted a journalistic treatment of the country, full of facts and figures.”
“Americans love statistics, something I write about in the book. And the kind of book about a foreign country that’s usually published in the U.S. is full of them. But, because I’m an essayist I don’t do that: my view of Brazil is totally subjective and based on personal experience, not numbers.”
In Brazil, the books have been successful with readers interested in a foreigners’ view of their country. “Yes, they sold better than I expected,” said Kepp, “even though this is, unlike the USA, England or France, not a country of readers. But Brazilians are open to and curious about how a foreigner sees this culture, particularly someone from a country whose ‘soft’ culture they so love to consume, and someone who has been here long enough to partially acclimate.”
When asked what originally inspired the books, Kepp said; “I didn’t begin these three essay books thinking I’d do a series. When my first book, “Sonhando com sotaque” (Dreaming in an accent) was published in 2003, I wasn’t sure I’d write another book of essays.”
Adding “But I was writing more of them, having begun a column for Folha de S. Paulo in 2001. So I published another batch of essays ‘Tropécos nos trópicos’ (Stumbling in the tropics) in 2011. That’s when I thought that my literary well would dry up soon. But it didn’t. So I published my third book, comprised of my most recent essays in Folha and a trove of unpublished ones.”
“Books are like children you give birth to,” Kepp added, “and now that I have three literary kids, I feel that my family is complete. And even though I’ve said that before, I think it’s truer now than it once was.
Speaking about the upcoming event Kepp concluded; “My book launches (actually I think they’re called “book signings” in English) are basically a way to invite my family, friends and biggest local fans to commemorate the birth of a new book. Since I’m not well-known, people who don’t know me rarely come to my book launches, even though they may hear about the book and buy it later.”
“Among all the invitees there are always a handful who surprise me, well-known people who I’m surprised know I exist or other strangers who have read my other books or essays in Folha, and tell me how I’ve touched their life. And when I can write something that moves people to laugh, cry, think, reflect or even get angry, then I’ve done my job as a writer. When I get no such reaction, I’ve failed the reader, something I try not to do. ”
What: Michael Kepp’s “Um pé em cada pais” (A foot in each country) Book Launch/Singing
When: Tuesday, November 24th, 7PM
Where: Livraria da Travessa, Voluntários da Pátria 97, Botafogo