Brazil Street is the final book in Robert Hunt’s trilogy on his life growing up in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the 50s and 60s.
Hunt lived on Brazil Street from his birth in 1949 until he married in 1976. Similar to the earlier titles in the trilogy, the book is written in an unassuming, just-the-facts-mister style, the narrative uncluttered with either self-reflection or re-examination of past events through present day lens.
Each chapter title introduces a main story thread, which Hunt populates with one or more related anecdotes from his life, in the era before malls, smart devices or 21st-century ‘enlightenment.’
Hunt writes of a rough-and-tumble life, exploring the nooks and crannies of place, people and situations. Adventures and friends occupy the foreground, while parents and adults exist outside daily life to be feared or revered and called upon only when needed. Stories are of murdered ‘Chinamen,’ confession boxes, gathering metal to sell as scrap and other ways to hustle a buck and starting fires just to see what would happen. He references a woman he dates as “a beautiful sight” and “pretty as a picture,” and in our times, underscored with broad brushstrokes of politically correct dogma, the phrasing and sentiment read almost as poetry.
His recollections are lively and packed with a hefty cast of family, friends and characters, many of whom make brief, albeit one-time-only appearances. Although charming in this inclusiveness, at times Hunt’s proclivity for naming every building, business or soul in the neighbourhood, lest they be forgotten, serves more as a distraction of the too-much-information sort.
The chapters are written as stand-alone pieces, disconnected to any bigger narrative arc, with little orientation or transition between. The result is unadorned, staccato storytelling whereby the book is held together with loosely connected pastiches that document life in another place and time. Whether Hunt is aware of it or not, it is the rhythms of this past, told simply and without artifice, that most resonate. And it is this unfettered storytelling that actually offers most of us, those not from Brazil Street or Newfoundland, a reason to read this book in spite of a few too many exclamation marks.
Hunt’s passion for his neighbourhood is sure and strong and in his last chapter he explains the motivation behind the trilogy, sharing his intent to tell “everything that I could remember from my childhood… so that my children, their children and the next generation will know how we lived, how we survived and how we became the people we are today.”
That seems to be an honest and noble endeavour.
Brazil Street: A Memoir