The Snake Woman of Ipanema, A Novel of Horror, Reveals the Dark Underside of Life in Brazil

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Each night, thousands of spirit rituals drum throughout Brazil. The ritual Maggie Dalton of Michigan seeks is the forbidden Quimbanda.

Life for Lucille Bellucci began in Shanghai, China, where she grew up during WWII dodging bombs and, up until 1949, Chinese Communist street demonstrators. At 18, she landed in the interrogation room of the Communist secret police. Was she a spy for the Americans? they wanted to know. Who were her collaborators? Write their names down. Each day for six weeks she repeated her denials of spying. Finally, she made up names and addresses of fellow spies. Anything to get an exit visa for herself and her family. When this fiction became evident, she found herself in worse trouble than ever. The police threatened execution by firing squad. She had to sign a confession and apologize to the People's Republic for her evil activities.

Although Bellucci refused to sign, believing that martyrdom (she was 18 and Catholic) assured her of heaven, her picture and confession appeared in the newspaper anyway. Her Italian citizenship saved her from execution.
In 1952, her family--parents and a sister--forthwith received their exit visas.

Trouble was, each was allowed to carry 50 American dollars to start a new life in Italy. Even in a refugee camp in Catania, Sicily, that was a scanty grubstake. Her novel, Journey from Shanghai, was born of that experience.

Bellucci's looks beleagured her throughout the five years she lived in Italy. Her father was Italian-Dutch-Indonesian, her mother Chinese. The Italians stared at "exotic" Bellucci, and her mother's bound feet.

Her emigration to the United States soon brought a decent paycheck, and life began to look up. Then she married Renato Bellucci and was dragged, kicking and screaming, to Brazil. She became an overseas American corporate wife! They lived in Ipanema, known wryly among locals as the American Slum. Bellucci says, "If you weren't American, you couldn't afford Ipanema." Hyperbole, of course; their neighbors were German, French, and, even, Brazilians.

Amid so much foreign affluence, Bellucci noted candlelit offerings of food on street corners. She learned from Antonia, their maid, that when a piece of blue cloth was laid on the bowl of manioc meal, the petition went to the Virgin Mary. If an opened bottle of beer accompanied the manioc, Exu the Devil ruled.

Bellucci kept asking to go to a spirit ritual and was routinely forbidden by Renato. She cast about for something to do and launched an unpaid singing career in The Little Theatre. She produced a play, "Table Manners," by Alan Ayckbourne. Renato found himself eating dinner on a card table because their furniture was on stage. "He didn't mind," Bellucci says, "as long as we didn't have to go to a spirit ritual."

When they returned home to California in 1980, Bellucci hit the research books on Umbanda, commonly known erroneously as voodoo. On his trips back to Brazil, Renato bought more books for her. That is how she discovered Quimbanda, a ritual prohibited by the government as evil, diabolical, foul, villainous. Bellucci's project brightened. Although the book described only how to undo Quimbanda, she worked the procedure backwards and came up with The Snake Woman of Ipanema:

"When Maggie Dalton finds a slaughtered black cockerel on her car, Tonia, her maid, says, 'Someone means you harm.' Jon Dalton's affair with a Brazilian woman is skewing Maggie's soul. She broods on the occult. To foreigners, Brazil is all about beaches and bikinis. Beneath the surface of Rio de Janeiro's good life runs the cult of spiritism, brought over 450 years ago by captive slaves from West Africa."

After Snake Woman, Bellucci wrote The Year of the Rat, a historical novel set in Shanghai. "I am in it as a 12-year-old child," she explains. The political story behind the Communist encroachment winds through a love affair, murder, and survival.

Bellucci has published nearly 60 short stories, essays, poems, humor/satire, children's fact and fiction. She has won nine first-place awards and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize.

Her latest novel is Stone of Heaven, set in America, and she has two story/essay/poetry collections, Pastiche: Stories and Such, and Farrago: More Stories.

Her Website is

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Lucille Bellucci

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