Dancing with the Devil in the City of God

Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Dream

Dancing with the Devil in the City of God

From prizewinning journalist and Brazilian native Juliana Barbassa comes a deeply reported and beautifully written account of the seductive and chaotic city of Rio de Janeiro as it struggles with poverty and corruption on the brink of the 2016 Olympic Games.

Juliana Barbassa moved a great deal throughout her life, but Rio was always home. After twenty-one years abroad, she returned to find her native city—once ravaged by inflation, drug wars, corrupt leaders, and dying neighborhoods—undergoing a major change.

Rio has always aspired to the pantheon of global capitals, and under the spotlight of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games it seems that its moment has come. But in order to prepare itself for the world stage, Rio must vanquish the entrenched problems that Barbassa recalls from her childhood. Turning this beautiful but deeply flawed place into a pristine showcase of the best that Brazil has to offer in just a few years is a tall order—and with the whole world watching, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Library Journal called Dancing with the Devil in the City of God “akin to Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit”—a book that “combines history and personal interviews in an informative and engaging work.” This kaleidoscopic portrait of Rio introduces the reader to the people who make up this city of extremes, revealing their aspirations and their grit, their violence, their hungers, and their splendor, and shedding light on the future of this city they are building together.

Dancing with the Devil in the City of God is an insider perspective from a native daughter and “a fascinating look at the people who live in and aspire to change one of the world’s most impressive cities” (Booklist, starred review).
  • Touchstone | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476756264 | 
  • June 2016
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Dancing With the Devil in the City of God includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Juliana Barbassa. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



In Dancing With the Devil in the City of God, reporter Juliana Barbassa returns to Rio de Janeiro, the city of her birth, after two decades away. She finds this vibrant city, selected to host the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, on the brink of change and ready to claim its place as a modern metropolis deserving of the world stage. But in order to succeed, Rio and its citizens must contend with long-standing problems of corruption, violence, poverty, and ill-considered development. Barbassa brilliantly charts the progress of the city and its colorful residents, their stumbles, and missteps, as they prepare for the largest events in Rio’s history—and set its future course.


Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. How did the author’s perspective as someone who had lived abroad for many years influence her writing about Rio de Janeiro? What aspects of life in Rio are most jarring or upsetting for her?

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About the Author

Juliana Barbassa
© Nadia Sussman

Juliana Barbassa

Juliana Barbassa was born in Brazil, but she had a nomadic life between her home country and Iraq, Malta, Libya, Spain, France, and the United States before settling in Switzerland. Barbassa began her career with the Dallas Observer, where she won a Katie Journalism Award in 1999. She joined the Associated Press in 2003, and after two more awards from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the APME, she returned to Brazil in 2010 as the AP’s Rio de Janeiro correspondent. Dancing with the Devil in the City of God is her first book.