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I’m sitting in the back seat thinking, Nuns can’t drive. Or maybe it’s just nuns with a lot on their minds. Or maybe it’s just Sister Leonora Brunetto, bearing on her sixty-four-year-old shoulders the weight of slavery, kleptocracy, landlessness, lawlessness, forest fires, hit squads, environmental devastation, and the ravages of capitalism. The year is 2010, and she’s driving erratically down a ragged highway in the central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. She speeds up, slows down, squints into the dark beyond the headlights, then remembers the rearview mirror, then remembers the accelerator.

Half the problem, I think, is Elizete Pinheiro, the woman sitting next to her. She’s filling us in on the political misconduct in the nearby town of Terra Nova do Norte. Pinheiro works for the municipal government there, as coordinator of the environmental department, which means that she’s knee-deep in a slurry of shady deals and embezzled funds. She hates it — and as she speaks, her voice soars with indignation. I’d have trouble driving, too.

But she stops short when Leonora taps the rearview mirror and says, “They’re following us.”

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is the author of more than twenty books, including, most recently, Love and Death in the Kingdom of Swaziland.

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