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Robert Gay

Testimonies of a Brazilian Drug Dealer's Woman

Robert Gay

A Q&A with Robert Gay about his book length Q&A with Lucia, whose story about life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro is told in Lucia: Testimonies of a Brazilian Drug Dealer's Woman

Q: How did you meet Lucia, and what prompted you/when did you decide to write this book?
A: I first met Lucia in 1989 while doing field research in Rio. She was a friend of a friend of mine who also lived in the favela (slum) of Jakeira. Then I lost touch with her for a few years when she became involved with a series of drug gang leaders. Eventually, however, she tired of drug gang life and returned to her family. I remember sitting in her house upon her return, listening to her story, and thinking that she had led a fascinating life.

Q: You claim to have spent three years in conversation with Lucia. How many hours of interviews did you do?
A: Overall, I tape recorded about twenty-five hours of interviews with Lucia. It was hard for Lucia to take time away from her many family and household duties. So, in the course of a day, I was lucky if I could record more than an hour of interviews. Of course, the rest of the time I hung out and observed and talked with Lucia and other family members. And, as it turned out, the time that it took to complete the interviews worked to our advantage because I was able revisit certain issues and go over the transcripts with Lucia. It also meant that the story continued to unfold in the course of the research.

Q: You structure Lucia as a series of interviews, and intersperse chapters on Lucia's house, prison, etc. Why did you choose this format to tell Lucia's story, as opposed to, say, a simple, linear narrative?
A: I never felt I had the authority or the legitimacy to speak for Lucia. I also, however, did not want the book to be simply testimony, or testimony followed by analysis. The best way to hold an audience's attention is to change the way you deliver information. The format I use in Lucia, hopefully, achieves that.

Q: I understand Lucia's "testimony" had to be carefully concealed because of the current attitudes about exposing criminal life in Brazil. Was there any danger during the interviews or in writing this book?
A: In most favelas there is a "code of silence" surrounding drug dealers' activities. This is primarily to protect them from rival drug gangs and the police. Informants who are caught are usually tortured and executed. I have no idea if the drug gang in Jakeira would have objected to what we were doing. There was always this possibility, however, and—because of this—I went out of my way to protect Lucia's anonymity.

Q: You had to gain Lucia's trust to write her story. Can you describe why this had to be done, and what was involved in this process?
A: I cannot imagine that Lucia would have been so open if I hadn't known her for a long time. And I am convinced that I would not have been able to write this book if I hadn't maintained a friendship with her and her family for so many years. The fact that I stayed in touch with and visited Lucia and her family whenever I was in Rio created a bond and a friendship that is extremely important to me.


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