A Brazilian teenager falls in love before fleeing home.
André Cabral comes from a wealthy, privileged Rio de Janeiro family, but he’s had his share of suffering. He’s 16 when his mother dies, leaving him with his distant father, a plastic surgeon, and Thiago, his younger brother. Sauma’s debut novel alternates between André’s adolescence and his adulthood: now living in London, he's been left by his wife, and his teenage daughters are nearly grown. There’s a mystery at the heart of this novel that only becomes clear as the narrative unwinds. As a boy, André was cared for by his family’s live-in maid, Rita, and he grew up alongside her beautiful daughter, Luana. What happens between André and Luana is at the heart of this novel’s mystery. Sauma’s work is engaging, her descriptions of Rio evocative, and her prose frequently lyrical. Unfortunately, the key to her mystery isn’t too difficult to predict, and without that element of surprise, the book isn’t altogether satisfying. André is the only full-fledged character. Luana, though prominent both in André’s mind and in the reader’s, remains a cipher. We know her only through André’s longings and never through her own. André drinks with his friends, goes to the beach, stays out all night, and returns home to find Luana hanging the laundry. What is she thinking? you’ll wonder. But you’ll have to go on wondering. Though attuned to the complexities of class and station, Sauma’s work nevertheless feels lacking, as though some animating spark were missing.
Sauma’s debut is engaging, particularly in its descriptions of Rio, but ultimately disappoints.