Title: My Sweet Orange Tree by Jose Mauro de Vasconcelos
Published by Pushkin Press (with new English translation - Jan 2018)
Genre: Older Children, Autobiographical Fiction, Literature-in-Translation
Source: Publisher provided physical reading copy
Disclaimer: A hardback reading copy was supplied by the publisher for an honest review. A special thanks goes to Mollie at Pushkin Press for this gorgeous book.
Meet Zeze - Brazil’s nautiest and most loveable boy, his talent for mischief matched only by his great kindness. when he grows up he wants to be a ‘poet with a bow-tie’ but for now he entertains himself playing pranks on the resisidents of his family’s poor Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood and inventing friends to play with. That is, until he meets a real friend, and his life begins to change.
Magical, sweet, enchanting and heartbreakingly sad...Zeze will stay with me for some time.
I wanted this reading experience to just go on and on, but alas it sadly did not. However, this endearing tale will stay in my memory for a very long time. Little Zeze narrates with innocence and an endearing childlike perspective about life living in the poorest of conditions in Rio De Jenero during the 1930’s. He is a bright, intelligent, intensely thoughtful, devilishly mischievous five year old who often finds himself in trouble for playing pranks on the villagers. Zeze is beaten as punishment for his ‘naughtiness’ so severely at times that my eyes welled-up, and my heart broke reading about the cruelty and physical abuse this little boy suffered at the hands of his frustrated parents and siblings.
Caring and nurturing come from unexpected sources; firstly in the form of ‘Pinkie’ the titular ‘sweet orange tree’ that Zeze sits under and talks to about his day; and from a friendship struck with one of the villagers. It is as a result of this relationship that Zeze comes to believe that he isn’t what the the villagers and family say he is, but that he is just a little boy in search of attention and affection.
With distressing scenes as well as tender and funny moments, a book that can move this reader to laugh, cry and laugh again is a very rare thing. So despite the tears this was ultimately, a uniquely uplifting story for me, and one I’ll certainly be reading again.
Originally published in 1968, intended as an older children’s book, I think that possibly due to its autobiographical content it will have poignancy, and appeal to adult readers too. Thanks to one of my favourite Brit-based publishers for translated literature, ‘My Sweet Orange Tree’ is available once again in English with a new translation and is wholeheartedly recommended as a ‘must read’. I’m sure it will become a favourite with many readers just as it did for me...I simply adored it.