What Is Mine

José Henrique Bortoluci

Translated by Rahul Bery

French paperback with flaps, 160 pages
Published 2 May 2024

Read preview

In What Is Mine, sociologist José Henrique Bortoluci uses interviews with his father, Didi, to retrace the recent history of Brazil and of his family. From the mid-1960s to the mid-2010s, Didi’s work as a truck driver took him away from home for long stretches at a time as he crisscrossed the country and participated in huge infrastructure projects including the Trans-Amazonian Highway, a scheme spearheaded by the military dictatorship of the time, undertaken through brutal deforestation. An observer of history, Didi also recounts the toll his work has taken on his health, from a heart attack in middle age to the cancer that defines his retirement. Bortoluci weaves the history of a nation with that of a man, uncovering parallels between cancer and capitalism – both sustained by expansion, both embodiments of ‘the gospel of growth at any cost’ – and traces the distance that class has placed between him and his father. Influenced by authors such as Annie Ernaux and Svetlana Alexievich, What Is Mine is a moving, thought-provoking and brilliantly constructed examination of the scars we carry, as people and as countries.

‘A son’s journey, around father and country, subtle and complex, tender and brutal; an intimate work of rare beauty and power.’
— Philippe Sands, author of East West Street

What Is Mine is an unforgettable oral history of truck driving along the potholed roads carving up the Amazon rainforest: bandits, sleep deprivation, beef barbecued on the engine. It is also an incisive political critique of ecocidal ideas of “progress”, a powerful reflection on the ways labour shapes a human body, and a loving exploration of a relationship between a father and son. It already has the feel of a classic.’
— Caleb Klaces, author of Fatherhood

‘A political document told as memoir, this is a book of incredible beauty and insight, one which demonstrates one of the greatest truths: that our lives, and the lives of our families, are inextricably bound to the structures of class, economics, and history they were born into.’
— Madeleine Watts, author of The Inland Sea

‘Powerful in its atomization of the Brazilian style of “capitalist devastation” that goes by the name of progress, movingly tender in its evocation of an Odysseus of a father, a long-distance trucker who plays a part in the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, this is a memoir like no other. I read it in one great gulp, unable to put it down. Brilliant!’
— Lisa Appignanesi, author of Everyday Madness

‘[A] truly extraordinary book – already a classic of the genre … [By] portraying a single life as a result of the interplay between often contradictory forces, it reinforces how the private is always political and the importance of bearing witness.’
Bartolomeo Sala, Something Curated

‘The reflection on Brazilian problems (the disastrous Amazon integration project, the country’s political deterioration) and also on issues that recur regardless of geography (the exploitation of the working class and the environment, disease, relationships between parents and children) is one of the triumphs of What Is Mine.’
O Globo

‘Father José Bortoluci, Didi, embodies a figure at once fundamental and renegade in Brazilian history, ignored in national narratives or condensed into an abstract stereotype…. The book gives a name and individuality to the truck driver.’
Folha de S. Paulo

José Henrique Bortoluci was born in Jaú in 1984. He has a BA in International Relations and an MA in Social History from the University of São Paulo, as well as an MA and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan, where he lectured and was a Fulbright fellow. He is a professor of Sociology at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo, where his lectures and research revolve around Brazilian politics, social theory, democracy and social movements. 

Rahul Bery is based in Cardiff, Wales and translates from Spanish and Portuguese to English. His published translations include novels by Vicente Luis Mora, Afonso Cruz, Simone Campos and David Trueba.