Published: 2017 by Scribner Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
This is an interesting review for me to write, as I both enjoyed this novel and felt at times very frustrated by it. Although first of all, I just want to take a moment to comment on the fact that this cover is just really gorgeous… Okay, moving on. I very much enjoyed the premise: André, a successful London doctor now in a failing marriage, is haunted by dreams of a long-lost relationship from his childhood in Brazil. We are given little bits of his present life as a doctor and father, but the story mostly focuses on his privileged teenage years, growing up in Brazil, and his relationship Luana, the daughter of the family’s maid. The story was interesting and kept me engaged from the beginning. It pulled me in with the question of why he left Brazil in the first place… What could have happened that drove him away? What is so painful for him to remember?
That central question is what propelled me through this novel. However, there were times when I needed more. I was just as interested in André as an adult as I was in his adolescence, and yet almost the entirety of the book was spent telling the story of his younger days. At times I got a little bogged down in the story, in some of what I thought were unnecessary details of those years. I found myself wishing to know more about André’s present self. I was more interested in his reaction to the letters, in his reaction to what Luana tells him, than I was in some of the details from his life as a teenager. Certainly I saw the value in setting up their relationship. That was key in the story. But I longed for more of a balance between the past and the present. Had that balance been there, I think the ending of the novel would have had more meaning for me.
I was also a little disappointed in the letters themselves, sent by Luana in present day. After years of silence between them, she suddenly begins to send him letters, resulting in him feeling haunted by the memories of her and their past. While I fully believed the effect these letters had on him, the letters themselves left much to be desired. They felt flat and they lacked the emotional punch that I needed in order to really feel the impact of the story. Luana claims to want to make him feel the pain that she has felt, but I couldn’t really feel that coming through with the letters.
That being said, I thought the ending was solid. I was not at all expecting the “big reveal” about why André fled Brazil. It took me by complete surprise, and yet was entirely believable, which I always feel is quite a feat. It was both heart-wrenching and well-executed. Such a realization certainly would have been devastating, and I understood the actions the characters made from that point on. The ending of the present-day storyline was a little less powerful for me, and I think it was because of the reasons I mentioned before. Had there been more of the present day, had Luana’s letters included more feeling and emotion, then maybe I would have been a little bit more swept up in the way things ended. In any case, I was happy with the ending, just not as emotionally involved as I would have liked.
I loved the Brazilian culture in this novel, and found Sauma to be a talented writer and storyteller. Although I had my issues with a couple aspects of this one, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more work from her in the future. Thank you to Scribner books for sending me this copy.