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Book Reviews

Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World

By Published: April 3, 2003
The big stars who emerged from bossa nova went on to pursue extended careers. Both Gilbertos (married no more) made beautiful records, as did Tom Jobim. A huge number of other musicians have picked up the threads and woven many beautiful songs. Those who carried the torch in Brazil understood that bossa nova's status as a popular music had come to its proper conclusion.

As a nostalgic touch, the familiar lyricism has its place. There are still plenty of musicians building on the tradition. But instead of thousands of screaming young fans, the audience of bossa nova has grown older. And wiser, presumably.

That's the story in a nutshell. Ruy Castro has his obsessions and his idiosyncrasies, but he certainly does tell an interesting story. It revolves around Gilberto and Jobim, but he does not hesitate to talk about other composers and performers who made independent statements in their own right. He places the music within a meaningful context—temporally, culturally, and socially. And his compulsive obsession with details is matched by a similar devotion to narrative—which, in many cases comes down to friendly, chatty, armchair storytelling.

It's hard to find flaws in Bossa Nova if you approach the book with the right attitude. It contains 335 dense pages (plus discography, glossary, and index) of bossa nova. The level of detail is very high. So obviously this is a tome to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately the author did not see fit to include recording or release dates in his discography, which renders finding this information a historical undertaking in itself. That's a shame, and the biggest objective flaw of the book.

But at the same time, the narrative runs through its breadth of lives and experiences in a way that seems fluid and natural, tying lots of loose ends together. And, of course, as amply illustrated above, it's just plain fun to read. [Check out Castro's story about how Gilberto's cat "Gato" (meaning "Cat") fell off the balcony to his death during a recording session. The cause of death was never ruled accidental.]

Note: this edition represents the paperback version of Lysa Salsbury's translation of Castro's original Brazilian version. Whatever controversy may surround the translation is completely lost on this reviewer. Sorry.

Related Links

IPG Books

Paradise In Brazil

Building a Jazz Library: Bossa Nova

Brazilian Jazz Reader Recommendations


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