This was a really interesting story. It had so many themes and issues which Powell explores confidently, sensitively and with real conviction. The location of Rio is exotic, full of energy and heat which exaggerates the tension and heightens the complex emotions in the story. It also allows Powell to explore politics, injustice and human rights as well as love, parenting and friendship.Determined to honor her late husband’s final request, Judith and her teenage step-daughter, Rosa, set out on a journey from London to Brazil to track down his family and take his ashes home.But when Judith’s search leads her to Ricardo, a handsome but haunted human rights lawyer, she begins to unravel a web of lies surrounding her husband’s past: a past which is about to come crashing into their present in the form of Rosa’s real mother.
What impressed me most with this novel was how Powell uses contrasts to help tell her story. There are passages of beautiful evocative description, emotional internal dialogue and then the gritty reality of a huge, chaotic and dangerous city. She is able to combine all this and confidently tell a story of love, loss and secrets, while also drawing the reader's attention to political issues and the social problems within Brazil. It is ambitious but it works. The description is at times lyrical and soothing despite the backdrop of Ricardo and Jude's experiences which adds a level of complexity to their emotional journeys.
Essentially the plot revolves around Jude, her late husband Edson and their daughter Rosa. I found Jude an interesting character who was easy to sympathise with. Powell hints at a deeper sadness within her and her unlucky relationships with men. The book introduces us to Jude at a time when she is incredibly vulnerable and I liked that Powell still kept a level of intrigue about her marriage to Edson, using further clues and revelations sparingly to maintain a level of tension as the reader tries to establish the relationships within the story.
"...the anchor of activity had been wrenched from beneath me; the funeral dealt with; the last guest gone; the healthcare equipment returned, the life had simply fallen out of me. I was all alone, jobless and husband-less, breathing in the emptiness of a house that no longer need me. And I missed him, For so long I'd been cursing the constant care he needed from me, that, for all my complaining, it had never dawned on me how much I needed him."
As a contrast the voice of Rosa, Jude's teenage step daughter, is authentic in its honest, frank, more informal voice. It balances well with that of Jude's narrative and it's down to earth style a welcome break from the emotional intensity of both Jude and Ricardo's narratives. I liked Powell's introductions to Rosa's sections where tourist information was used as a way in to what Rosa was going to reflect on or share with the reader. Again, this also made an effective change of pace and contrast for the reader.
"What the guidebook says:
- 92% of new cars in Brazil use ethanol (produced from sugar cane) as fuel
- Brazil's homicide rate is 25 per 100,000 people - 4 times higher than in the US
- Homosexuality hasn't been illegal in Brazil since 1830"
Ricardo's sections, in italics to signify another narrative voice, are intriguing. There is a level of mystery and suspense surrounding him and this created more tension between the characters and the exploration of friendship and love. He is a good character with admirable motivations (his future wife had explained about the shelter for street children and their desperate need of a lawyer) and one who the reader wants to trust and feel safe with.
"He instinctively wanted to protect both Judith and Rosa. They were so fresh, so full of belief in the world."
The street life of Brazil is well captured and the sense of slight lawlessness and danger felt authentic and convincing. Again, it added further depth to a story that becomes much more than just a domestic drama.
"Ricardo's battered yellow car swerved to avoid a barefoot boy darting out from behind a gaggle of women, before he brought it to an abrupt halt in front of the bus stop. He leant over and opened the passenger door and I jumped in, only just pulling the door shut as he took off again, avoiding a bus by a whisker."
I enjoyed how we share in the emotional healing of Jude as she physically travels to Brazil to say goodbye to Edson, even though she's not fully aware herself that she needs to heal, or that this need for love and a sense of belonging is what she has been missing or searching for:
"How many years had it been since someone last held my hand? It was such a simple thing and yet I felt, in that moment, connected to him in a way I had failed to feel in any of my doomed liaisons per the years..."
"I knew some people would say my 'head down and get on with it' attitude was commendable, brave even, but I knew better: it was the worst kind of cowardice. It was the avoidance of making a real decision, the refusal to take action to change what had become so routine I no longer recognised it as suffering but rather as what my grandmother would refer to as 'my lot'."
As I have said already, I was struck with Powell's prose. It was often surprisingly lyrical and beautiful which was a stark contrast to the harshness and sometimes distressing events that we are exposed to. Sentences which struck me as particularly powerful come from towards the end of the novel but in quoting them here, I don't think they reveal any spoilers, just reflect Powell's skill at capturing particular moments.
".....I felt the vastness of the landscape echo in my own loneliness..."
"......I took a step towards Rosa as if I could somehow catch the words as they floated towards her and pull them back. But instead I watched as they reached her ears and worked their way down to her heart, which I stood and watched breaking."
I was pleasantly surprised about the breadth, depth and range of emotions, issues, themes and story lines in this book. It wasn't what I was expecting. Although there are several characters with whom we are encouraged to engage closely with and a level of mystery, clues and half hinted at secrets at the beginning of the novel with which to grapple, Powell skilfully weaves an absorbing and memorable tale.
My thanks to Rebecca for a copy of her novel which can be purchased via Amazon from June 2016. For more reviews, information or to purchase the book click on the link below:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rebecca Powell was born in Bristol. She has a degree in French and Portuguese from the University of Leeds and in her early twenties she worked for a year at a women's shelter in the northeast of Brazil, before moving to London, where she continued to work for a number of national charities. She now lives in the South West of France with her husband and three children. Rebecca is the sister of award-winning novelist Gareth L Powell (Ack-Ack Macaque; The Recollection) and children's author Huw Powell (Spacejackers).
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