‘Carolina Carioca’ is about a middle-class Englishman who falls in love with a working-class Brazilian woman, brings her home and realises how different they are. It’s about how love across cultures burns brightly, and often fizzles out.
I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro, but I moved to London with my family when I was a child. Growing up, I started to notice that young men were particularly intrigued when I told them I was from Brazil. Many would tell me about the romances they’d had with Brazilian women, and how superior they were to British girls – both in looks and demeanour.
I’ve heard it thousands of times: Brazilian women are the most beautiful in the world. This stereotype is extremely uncomfortable for me; not just because of the fear of falling short (I’m often told I don’t “look Brazilian”), but because this fetish is inevitably focused on dark-skinned, working-class women. It’s not just about beauty; it’s about power.
My protagonist, Adam, isn’t a sex tourist. He’s not one of those old white Americans you see walking down Ipanema beach at sundown, hand-in-hand with teenage prostitutes. But Carolina’s ‘otherness’ is still very enticing to him. He’s an amalgamation of many different men I’ve met over the years, who have brought Brazilian women to the UK. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t – and of course many of these relationships are fruitful and genuine, particularly when the man hasn’t gone to Brazil in search of a sexual cliché.
Carolina was inspired by a girl I met many years ago. She started a relationship with a much older gringo, who was travelling around Brazil. She was infatuated with him, and he thought she was beautiful; he was as exotic to her as she was to him. He took her home to a small English town, where she spent months in depressed isolation before returning to Brazil. Carolina, at least, gets to go to London!
I toyed with the idea of writing the story from Carolina’s point-of-view, but it felt right to do it in the second-person, from Adam’s perspective – hopefully, it captures his self-absorption and the romance he creates around her. It reads like a love letter, but between the lines, he treats her pretty badly. He doesn’t appreciate how lonely and far from home she is, and that she has her own story to tell – she’s not just part of his gap-year narrative.
I like to think that, while Adam is miserable on the tube, pining for the past, Carolina is in Rio, happily married and working in a decent job. I hope she laughs every time she thinks about Adam; looking back fondly, but not with longing.
— Luiza Sauma