Books

at-homeAt Home in the Street: Street Children of Northeast Brazil

Published by Cambridge University Press Winner of the Margaret Mead Prize Based on innovative fieldwork among street children and activist organizations, this book changes the terms of the debate, asking not why there are so many homeless children in Brazil, but why—given the oppressive alternative of domestic life in cramped and often violent urban shacks—there are in fact so few. At the center of this book are children who play, steal, sleep, dance, and die in the streets of a city in the Brazilian Northeast. But all around them figure activists, politicians, researchers, “home” children, and a global crisis of childhood.

Reviews:

“Never in ethnography has the agency of the subject’s voice been so creatively present; never have the stories of such children who partly stand for contemporary Brazil been so plainly compelling.”
—George Marcus

“Another outstanding feature of the book is the writing.”
—Roger Magazine, American Ethnologist”

“A moving, provocative study that probes below the surface of everyday Brazilian life. This is ethnography at its best: riveting, compassionate, pithy, handsomely illustrated with photographs, always aware of the larger social and political context.”
—Robert M. Levine

“In reading Hecht’s powerful and accessible book, we become familiar with a dozen children of the street. If you want to know what happened to them, read the book. You will not be the same.”
—Donna J. Karen, Luso-Brazilian Review

“Hecht’s research on the street children of Recife and Olinda and the activist organizations that deal with them provides richly detailed observations and a well-studied challenge to the popular image of Brazilian street children and their suffering at the hands of the police. Recommended for undergraduates and above.”
—Choice

“A thoughtful and detailed volume written in prose refreshingly free of the sensational treatment accorded this difficult subject by many writers.” —Journal of Third World Studies “Tobias Hecht is an iconoclast, and in At Home in the Street he systematically dismantles almost every piece of received wisdom on the lives and experiences of street children. The result is a profound, compassionate and invaluable reappraisal of the ’street child phenomenon.’”
—Journal of Latin American Studies

“This is a powerful ethnography which puts children’s reports at the centre of its analysis. We learn how street children speak about their families, the violence in their everyday lives, their bleak futures, and interventions from welfare organizations.”
—Catherine Panter-Brick, Durham University

“This is one of the rare books that touches on the social constructions of childhood as it relates to class in Brazil.”
—Marcia Mikulak, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Hecht’s work is graceful, thorough, and level-headed. The power of his analysis is magnified by its compassion, and by the clarity and elegance of his completely approachable writing. This book is a much—needed contribution to the literature of Brazil, of children, and of anthropology. It will no doubt be read and argued for years to come.”
—Robin Nagle, New York University.

“[Um] livro denso e bem escrito que alia a arte literária aos exigentes padrões da produção científica e revela além do antropólogo, o escritor.
—Jornal do Commercio

 

after-lifeAfter Life: An Ethnographic Novel
Duke University Press, 2006

Bruna Veríssimo, a youth from the hardscrabble streets of Recife, in Northeast Brazil, spoke with Tobias Hecht over the course of many years, reliving her early childhood in a raging, impoverished home, her initiation into the world of prostitution at a time when her contemporaries had just started school, and her coming of age against all odds.
Hecht had originally intended to write a biography of Veríssimo. But with interviews ultimately spanning a decade, he couldn’t ignore that much of what he had been told wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. In Veríssimo’s recounting of her life, a sister who had never been born died tragically, while the very same rape that shattered the body and mind of an acquaintance occurred a second time, only with a different victim and several years later. At night, with the anthropologist’s tape recorder in hand, she became her own ethnographer, inventing informants, interviewing herself, answering in different voices.
With truth impossible to disentangle from invention, Hecht followed the lead of Veríssimo, his would-be informant, creating characters, rendering a tale that didn’t happen but that might have. A call and response of truth and invention, mental illness and yearning, After Life is a tribute to and reinterpretation of the Latin American testimonio genre. Desire, melancholy, longing, regret, and the hunger to live beyond the confines of past and future meet in this debut novel by Tobias Hecht.

Reviews:

“A disturbingly powerful journey into the violence of everyday life and the inner world of literature. The enigmatic and courageous characters of After Life jump off the page and change the ways we think about human agency today.”
—João Biehl, Princeton University.

“Deeply moving. . . written with profound integrity”
—Anne Michaels, author of Fugitive Pieces.”

Powerful in [its] insights and delights”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review

[Hecht´s] evocation of the horrors and beauties of contemporary Brazil is skillful, and his portrait of a Northern woman adrift and paralyzed . . . is incisive.”
—Publishers Weekly

“An illuminating example of the beauty and usefulness of “ethnographic fiction.”
—Journal of Children and Poverty

“A unique and fascinating book”
—LusoBrazilian Review

minor-omissionsMinor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society
University of Wisconsin Press, 2002
Winner 2003 Best University Press Books Citation,
Public Library Association

Latin American history—the stuff of wars, elections, conquests, inventions, colonization, and all those other events and processes attributed to adults—has also been lived and partially forged by children. Taking a fresh look at Latin American and Caribbean society over the course of half a millennium, this book explores how the omission of children from the region’s historiography may in fact be no small matter.
Children currently make up one-third of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean, and over the centuries they have worked, played, worshipped, committed crimes, and fought and suffered in wars. Regarded as more promising converts to Christianity than were adults, children were vital in European efforts to invent loyal subjects during the colonial era. In the contemporary economies of Latin America and the Caribbean—where almost a quarter of the people live on a dollar per day or less—the labor of children may spell the difference between survival and starvation for millions of households.
Minor Omissions brings together scholars of history, anthropology, religion, and art history as well as a talented young author who has lived in the streets of a Brazilian city since the age of nine. The book closes with the prophetic and dystopian tale “The Children’s Rebellion” by the noted Uruguayan writer Cristina Peri Rossi

What readers are saying

“Welcome to this panoply of views on children in Latin American. Against the backdrop of a world where children are so often treated as beings without rights, voiceless shadows, Lilliputian criminals, here is a book animated by an uncommon respect for the roles of young people in shaping society.”
—Eduardo Galeano, author of The Open Veins of Latin America”

This excellent book is the first to be published specifically on the history of childhood in Latin America”
—Elizabeth Kusnesof, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[An] impressive history of childhood in South America”
—The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“A poignant and powerful collection of essays that seek to bring children to the forefront, not as victims but as historical actors”
—Latin American Research Review

“Unique and Pioneering”
—Dain Borges, University of Chicago

“[Minor Omissions] should find a place on the bookshelf of any researcher delving into the issues of children and poverty in Latin America.”
—Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies


Coming soon:
south-africa-literarySouth Africa: A Traveler’s Literary Companion,edited by Isabel Balseiro and Tobias Hecht, Whereabouts Press, 2009.

Whereas travelers may envision journeys geographically, thinking about South African literature through the lens of geography is a Pandora’s box. The country’s history is about nothing if not the competing interpretations of who has the right to own, settle, name, and exploit the land and its riches.
The stories and fragments of novels in this book were collected with an eye to evoking a vibrant, enigmatic, and divided South Africa. They were written over the long century—from just after the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) until a decade and a bit after the country’s first democratic elections (1994).
A rich selection of works by both well known literary figures, such as Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, and Olive Schreiner, and other lesser known but talented authors. These stories not only traverse the geographic regions of South Africa, but cross the boundaries of time to offer perspectives on both the oppressed and the oppressors. These literary gems will give readers a sense of the country – its landscapes, its history, its culture, and a window onto day-to-day life.