DO YOU recall the story of little Zeze who befriends an orange tree and loses his best friend Portuga, from My Sweet Orange Tree? Naive children have kept in their hearts this innocent, fragile little boy who becomes wounded by the harsh reality of life. However, most of them grow up without knowing that Jose Mauro de Vasconcelos turns Zeze into a confused desperado, who quits school and falls dangerously in love in his book, Doidao. Zeze’s foster family and all the teachers at his former school consider him a pathetic fool who obviously failed to live up to his peers’ expectations, hence the description doidao sometimes is interchangeable with passion or madness.
The young Zeze Vasconcelos
The little Zeze whom we are familiar with is a sensitive overgrown kid who is let down by the world around him. The poverty, social hierarchy, and all the misunderstandings and neglect cause him to feel lonely. He lacks attention, which is what a child needs most. Portuga was the perfect person who could give him care, comfort, and, most importantly, love. However, little Zeze loses this soul-mate in a car accident, and he is once again left alone to fight the world. This is pretty much the only part of the sad story that readers of My Sweet Orange Tree know.
Little Zeze, unlike Peter Pan, has to grow up. In fact, he becomes quite a troublemaker. In The Hunt for Sunshine, which falls second in chronology of the Zeze series, Zeze enters a strict Catholic middle school. The boy faces many conflicts with his foster parents, and the rigorous academic duties make matters seem worse.
The orange tree that Zeze once sought for comfort is no longer there. Instead, Zeze befriends Monk Pioli from school. He listens to Zeze’s worries and complaints, and offers him help when he needs it. Also, Zeze’s dead best friend Portuga is replaced by Mr. Moris, a famous actor. Every night Zeze lets this imaginary father-like figure visit him. Adam, a toad who lives inside Zeze’s heart, promises that Zeze’s heart will always burn like the sun. “The reason for Zeze’s befriending all these made-up characters is that he was suffering from lack of attention and loneliness,” explains Park Won-bock (Translator of The Hunt for Sunshine). “Moreover, you should take note that Zeze has an exceptionally creative mind like the author Vasconcelos,” added Park.
Zeze starts out as an innocent kid in My Sweet Orange Tree, then becomes a teenager in The Hunt for Sunshine, and, finally, an adolescent in Doidao. In Chapter 1 of Doidao, Zeze is soon to graduate, but knows nothing about his desires. All he knows is that he does not want to let his parents and teachers force him into a fixed path. After a few years, he quits medical school and works at a marine product industry. Zeze is on unfriendly terms with his foster family, and to release his stress he goes swimming out in the sea everyday. Then one day, to Zeze’s surprise, his foster father approaches him. At first Zeze is alarmed by this, but soon he finds out that the man he once detested is seriously ill.
To make matters worse, Zeze falls in love with Sylvia, a notoriously promiscuous girl. Despite the fact that his love scandal with Sylvia becomes controversial, the two still carry on with their love. Zeze’s folly is destroyed, however, when Zeze’s foster father has to have surgery. With such depression, he bans himself from going swimming. With the burden of all the mishaps on his shoulders, and not knowing what he wants to do, or even what he is supposed to do, Zeze takes off to find his destination.
Are you another Zeze?
Although he abandons everything he once had, perhaps Zeze is not such a doidao after all. It’s true that many Yonseians have felt, or even still feel, the same way. For many of us, it is not crystal-clear what we should do after university just like Zeze in the book. “This book really shows how reality is so much different from our dreams,” said Park Chan-seo (Fresh., Underwood International College). Park also added, “While reading the book I could sympathize with Zeze. The way he had to struggle between his own desires and his parents’ about his future is not any different from the types of problems that university students face today.” Zeze’s foster parents felt that Zeze lacked a specific goal during this crucial stage in life, and wanted to change their “doidao” son. This timeless conflict has been around forever, troubling not only Zeze but also adolescents today.
With the future seeming as clear as mud, there is something else that bothers many youth around this age. If goal-planning attacks sense, love and emotions attack sensibility. Love has a tendency to take one’s heart and trouble it at the most difficult times, like it did to Zeze. Setting aside childhood crushes, one usually finds true love around the age of 20, when one first enter the world of adulthood. Maybe this is why Zeze couldn’t take it all and had to leave things behind.
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If you were impressed with My Sweet Orange Tree, why not meet the older version of Zeze? Perhaps the changed desperado version of an older Zeze could touch your heart too, if little Zeze once did. Along with the re-acquaintance of Zeze, take a break and reflect upon yourself. You may have been doidao to your loved ones.