More than a decade ago, Eliane Brum came across a German evangelical pastor on the banks of Brazil’s Juma River. He introduced himself as a “creator of churches,” but he was guarding the gate to a muddy parking lot, charging gold prospectors to enter: $10 per car. “God writes right with crooked lines,” the pastor assured her. Brazilians recite this theodicean proverb not only as moral justification for individual deviance but also as an expression of faith in divine wisdom—and, indeed, in national destiny.
Here, in Stefan Zweig’s “land of the future,” God’s plan is inscribed with the secular promise of modernity, and for a small, historically privileged minority, fulfillment of this promise has never been in doubt. But most Brazilians live between a less fortunate past and a future that will never be realized.