In MacKenzie’s second novel (City of Strangers, 2009), an American woman living temporarily in São Paulo with her banker husband witnesses Brazil’s increasing political and economic unrest while experiencing personal unrest of her own.
When the novel opens in the relatively recent post–Great Recession era, almost 30-year-old Emma (whose name is withheld from readers for no apparent reason until almost the end of the novel) has been living in São Paulo for six months and considers herself an expat. She narrates her adventures in short snippets of observation, conversation, and memory while showing off her flare for etymology, her one true interest, whenever possible. The relatively brief novel recounts endless rounds of lunches with a group Emma thinks of as "the Wives," chic dinners with her never-named husband, posh parties with his business associates, and hours spent looking out the windows of her apartment in a fortresslike high-rise. Married for five years and without professional ambitions of her own, she has no work to occupy her except tutoring a handful of rich Brazilians—the couple associates only with rich Brazilians—who want to practice their English. But Emma is aware of constant turmoil in the country. One night, leaving a restaurant, she and her husband are held at knife point and robbed by three young boys. Neither Emma nor her husband is hurt, but the robbery haunts her. She visits a poor neighborhood and imagines how hard the lives of her robbers must be. Soon she is volunteering at a refugee center run in a Catholic church while continuing her posh social life. She witnesses growing unrest within the population with a sympathy her husband does not share. The couple argues with increasing intensity over having a baby—he wants children; she resists. Meanwhile she carries on a low-wattage flirtation with her husband’s co-worker Marcos, whose wife, Iara, is her caring friend.
An emotionally chilly novel that never delves deeply or complexly enough into any of its individual characters or the country of Brazil.