Sunday, November 30th, 2008
The Short Take:
Every once in awhile you encounter a book that isn’t merely a good story with fascinating characters but that actually transcends the realm of good non-fiction. The Seamstress is one of those books.
I have no idea why some books become classics and others disappear into oblivion. This one certainly deserves the former option.
It’s a great read, but it is also so much more. This is true literature. Not the kind that makes you think of mandatory school reading, but the kind that makes you think, opens your mind, and brings you wonder.
Set in Brazil in the 1920s and 30s, the novel follows two sisters who follow different men into totally different lives. The contrasts in their lifestyles could not be stronger, yet the similarities in their circumstances are striking.
Both women contend with demanding new social situations that require them to develop new survival skills. Yet their childhood occupation as seamstresses continues to play an integral part of their new lives.
The Seamstress is very much placed in the real world of Brazilian politics and policies, though no characters are historic. The land, its climate, flora and fauna, and social structure are all an integral part of this beautifully detailed and deeply haunting novel.
I can’t recommend it enough.
Want Some Plot?
Trained as seamstresses, sisters Emilia and Luzia anticipate very different lives. Attractive Emilia dreams of moving from the hard life of the country into city refinements with a dashing husband. With an arm disfigured by a childhood accident, Lucia has no hope of marriage and prays desperately for a different life.
When the infamous Hawk, leader of a band of cangaceiros (a group of bandits with Robin Hood-like tendencies) comes to their village, he demands that Luzia leaves with him. Unexpectedly, Luzia finds herself immersed in a new world of dangers and loyalties; and she develops the skills to thrive in it.
A man also takes Emilia away. Degas Coelho is a diffident suitor but Emilia is so enamored with the idea of city life she subdues her doubts and marries him. Upon arriving in Recife, she finds her romanticized vision of married life bares no resemblance to the lonely and highly restrained existence she finds in the Coelho family home.
Despite the vast gulf between their lives, the sisters maintain a love for each other that still influences their actions. Each takes great risks to help the other even though they remain apart.
The results are bittersweet, and wholly believable.
Visit the author’s website by clicking here.