Friday, April 5, 2013

The Seamstress - Frances de Pontes Peebles


As seamstresses, the young sisters EmÍlia and Luzia dos Santos know how to cut, mend, and conceal—useful skills in the lawless backcountry of Brazil, where ruthless land barons feud with bands of outlaw cangaceiros, trapping innocent residents in the crossfire. EmÍlia, a naive romantic, dreams of falling in love with a gentleman and escaping to a big city. Quick-tempered Luzia also longs for escape, finding it in her craft and secret prayers to the saints she believes once saved her life. But when Luzia is abducted by cangaceiros led by the infamous Hawk and EmÍlia stumbles into a marriage with the son of a wealthy and politically powerful doctor, the sisters' quiet lives diverge in ways they never would have imagined.


 Set during the political upheaval of Brasil in the 1920s and 30s, this 600 page historical novel is absolutely riveting.  This is not a time or place in history I know much about, but despite my ignorance on the subject, the author never overwhelmed me with material, nor did my attention ever wane.  I thought it was absolutely brilliant that the sisters were separated so that we saw both the upperclass and the cangaceiros of Brasil.  They are set as foils to each other throughout the whole novel, really fleshing out their bond that transcends distance and class, as well as women's living situation between the classes.  The author's descriptions of the climate - especially the desert is extremely vivid.  Sometimes the plot can get away when authors take the time to spend a lot of detail on landscapes, but in this book it really brought enhanced all the other mechanics of the book.  It is an extremely well written novel, one that I recommend highly.  

The Seamstress is actually a real woman, and I believe (I might be wrong, I couldn't find it online) Emilia may have been a real woman too, although not linked to The Seamstress in real life.  The book deals with a lot of political issues of the time - the end of the cangaceiros, the creation of the rail road, women's voting rights, and lgbt issues.  This book is one of the best researched historical novels I've ever read, and it really shows with its very realistic feel. 


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