One-Minute Book Reviews

September 2, 2008

Bonnie and Clyde in Brazil — Frances de Pontes Peebles’s First Novel, ‘The Seamstress’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Filed under: Books I Didn't Finish,Historical Novels,Latin American,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:21 am
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The latest in an occasional series of posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t finish them

Title: The Seamstress: A Novel. By Frances de Pontes Peebles. Ecco, 641 pp., $25.95.

What it is: A historical saga about two orphaned sisters, trained as seamstresses, whose lives diverge and converge in dangerous ways during their early adulthood Brazil in the 1930s. Emília marries into high society in Recife and opens a dress shop that thrives on the patronage of the prominent friends of her in-laws. Luzia lives among bandits after being abducted at an early age by cangaceiros, roving groups of men and women who for centuries plundered and protected the countryside of northeastern Brazil.

How much I read: The first 50 and the last 75 pages, about a quarter of the book.

What I stopped reading: This novel resembles a cross between a Brazilian Bonnie and Clyde and a Dominick Dunne novel. Like Dunne, Frances de Pontes Peebles has a strong sense of pace, uses her research well and maps the intersection of sex, crime and social status. She also weaves into her plot an appealing sewing motif, showing how rewarding and arduous dressmaking could be when Singer’s hand-cranked machines were giving way to electric ones. In The Seamstress the tape measure is a metaphor for truth or trustworthiness, the ability to give a straight account. But for all her painstaking attention to detail, de Pontes Peebles draws her characters broadly. She tells us that people called young Luzia “the yolk” and Emília “the white,” and the sisters have that yolk-and-white quality in the novel. Interesting as some of the material was, the book didn’t have enough depth to hold my attention for more than 600 pages.

Best line in what I read: “Beneath her bed, Aunt Sofia kept a wooden box that held her husband’s bones.”

Worst line in what I read: Would a Brazilian woman living in 1928 have used the phrase “state-of-the-art” (as in “a state-of-the-art machine: a pedal-operated Singer”)?

Published: August 2008 www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060738877/The_Seamstress/index.aspx

Furthermore: The Seamstress is the first novel by de Pontes Peebles, who was born in Brazil and grew up in Miami.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 27, 2007

Carol Saline and Sharon Wohlmuth’s ‘Sisters,’ a Holiday Gift for Women Who Think That Having a Sister Is ‘Like a Marriage Without the Sex’

Sisters of many ages talk about what they give to and get from each other

By Janice Harayda

“It’s like a marriage without the sex,” the folksinger Anna McGarrigle says of her relationship with her sisters, Kate and Jane. If you know a woman who has similar feelings, your search for an ideal holiday gift book might begin with Sisters: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Running Press, 164 pp., $29.95) www.sistersbook.com.

Since 1994 more than a million people have bought this attractive coffee-table book that has 36 brief essays by the award-winning journalist Carol Saline www.carolsaline.com and wonderful black-and-white photos by Sharon J. Wohlmuth, who shared a Pulitzer Prize at the Philadelphia Inquirer. What accounts for its staying power? In part, an inspired mix of sisters – pairs, trios and a quintet — who talk about their relationship. Some are celebrities — Chris Evert, Melba Moore, Gail Sheehy, Dixie Carter, Barbara Mandrell, Christy Turlington, Coretta Scott King, Wendy Wasserstein. But the most memorable essays involve women unlikely to appear in “Got Milk?” ads – a Vietnamese refugee, a pair of nuns, a trio of police officers, and a 7-year-old girl who tries to comfort an 11-year-old sister with AIDS.

The tone of Sisters is warm but not cloying. And Wolmuth’s photos often have a low-keyed wit, as in a picture of three sisters in their 80s who relax at a pool in what appears to be a Miami retirement complex. One member of the trio, in a Betty Ford hairdo, stands in chest-high water and lights a cigarette. What are ashes in the pool, the picture seems to ask, when you’ve got love like this?

Caveat lector: This review was based in the first edition. The 10th anniversary edition has some new material, including updates on sisters in the first edtion.

Furthermore: The authors also wrote Best Friends and . Mothers & Daughters, which have a similar format.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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