REVIEW by Willard Manus
by Maria Jose Silveira is part history, part novel, part feminist saga.
It depicts 500 years in the life of a Brazilian family, beginning in 1500
and finishing in 2011, with each new daughter taking the place of her
mother. The stories are based on the authors actual ancestors. Silveira,
who has written ten novels, brings to life each era with remarkable skill
and knowledge, catching you up in a magical spell which lasts for all
335 of its pages (the deft translation from the Portuguese is by Eric
Silveiras page-turning gifts are matched by her ability to write
character. Whether she is centering on the daughter of a Tupiniquim warrior,
or a slave child, or a farmers daughter, or a ranchers wife,
Silveira paints a vivid, three-dimensional portrait of that person, enabling
the reader to know what she is doing, thinking, feeling, and dreaming.
Equally vivid is her depiction of period, custom, folklore and class.
The women in this novel do not have it easy, owing to the deep-grained
machismo, racism and violence of Brazilian society down through the ages.
Most of the books heroines lead short, brutal, tragic lives, falling
victim to slavery, exploitation, illness, rape and even murder. But still
the matrilineal line survives and evolves, slowly but steadily gaining
in strength and resolve, leading to Maria Flor in the 20th century, an
emancipated woman whose mother was a left-wing revolutionary. Although
Maria Flor has traded politics and armed struggle for the comfortable
life of a fashion stylist, she still feels a connection to her past.
She can feel the weight of the impossible silence that belongs to
the blacklands and to the darkness, Silveira writes. She hears
a voice echoing through the woods, the melancholy chords of a piano and
lament of violins. Horses galloping and livestock mooing, gunshots, feet
running, blood, blood, and more blood, the taste of red savanna dust,
the heights of the jajoba tree, and the warm scent of a woman. All this,
she knows, is a taste of the past in disguise.
(Open Letter Books, $16.95 ppbk)