A long preface, praising ""Rachel"" as one of Brazil's few women writers, and describing this country's intellectual and social climate, introduces this novel. The book, however, is not quite so unusual by North American standards; it is a rather innocent story of three Marias, of different backgrounds, who grow up in a convent. Several of their friends come to bad ends (they elope, turn prostitute, marry and take a lover). Of these three, one marries happily; one, shocked by her broken family, remains a religious; and Cuta, the protagonist, breaks with her home, takes a job, and eventually a lover. The style is simple, dreamy, poetic, almost as if these facts of a woman's life were discovered for the first time. Perhaps in Brazil, they are. It is a touching story, but it lacks a certain edge, such as Colette has, whom ""Rachel"" echoes in theme, tone and her preoccupation with female independence and loneliness.