In a beautifully written memoir looking back after years spent in Brazil, a woman explores both her own coming of age and the ecology of the rain forest.
Levy, a relatively sheltered 21-year-old, leaves her studies at Yale for a Rotary Club fellowship in Bahia, in northern Brazil, although she intends to spend as little time there as possible before heading for the Amazon. Further isolated by her less-than-stellar Portuguese, she finds herself spending months in the city of Salvador, where trouble greets her: In one of several melodramatic episodes that occasionally mar an otherwise polished narrative, she’s robbed and then poisoned. Eventually, she meets three women who will be her closest friends: Barbara, a sophisticated American who introduces her to capoeira, a Brazilian martial art; and Isa and Nelci, roommates who illustrate what it means to be a true Bahian. Finally reaching the Amazon, Levy tags along with and attempts to please the researchers she originally hoped to work with; she’d soon like to have a project of her own. Amid flashes forward to the person she eventually becomes, she looks back in disdain at her younger self, although the self-loathing is at last eased when she accepts herself as an intelligent, forthright lesbian who has much more to offer than she ever thought possible. Levy’s time in the rain forest covers only about a third of the book, and her 15 “Amazon Snapshots” will be of particular importance for anyone interested in the work of the National Institute for Amazonian Research. However, readers searching for the love story of the subtitle may be less satisfied. Levy seems too wrapped up in worrying about doing the right thing and being the right person to truly love someone or anything. Yet her self-involvement makes for a compelling feminist narrative about personal exploration, especially since she’s such a talented writer.
A strong coming-of-age story from an exotic land.