SAUDADE by Katherine Vaz


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 Located in both Portugal and California, Vaz's first novel takes a stab at magical realism. Unfortunately, the result is a mish-mash. A Portuguese sailor and his wife give birth to a deaf and mute, but wildly loving baby girl. When still very young, Clara develops her own enchanting form of communication, using sugar to trace patterns and gestures. Endearing as this is, Clara is not believable. Writing entirely in the third person, Vaz offers insights into Clara's thoughts, endowing her with supernatural powers. The moment she becomes an orphan, Clara finds her voice. She moves to California with a priest who, charged with her care, accepts as church property the vineyard Clara's mother inherited. Here, along with neighbors and a lover as driven by seafaring ghosts as she is, Clara becomes priestess in a world of phantasmagorical exorcisms. The sugar hieroglyphs expand to include colors and sounds; fish scales are used to form elaborate fetishes; she gains and then loses the ability to read. Surrounding them are other characters with their own hallucinatory lives: Clara's severely deformed infant; Caliopia, whose sole purpose is to understand (and teach) all the secrets of mourning; a girl so beautiful her grandmother kept her hidden for years under the boards of their henhouse. Despite such an intriguing cast, the writing is pedestrian, waxing poetic at all the wrong moments. Were it not for the jacket summary we would have trouble discovering that Clara's father died at sea. Both characters and bystanders spend so much time struggling with elements of myth and dream that readers are unable to suspend belief, let alone forge a new reality. With any luck, this book will quickly follow its characters into some obscure and unmemorable netherworld.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-11055-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994


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