Summary: As seamstresses, the young sisters Emília and Luzia dos Santos know how to cut, mend, and conceal—useful skills in the lawless backcountry of Brazil, where ruthless land barons feud with bands of outlaw cangaceiros, trapping innocent residents in the crossfire. Emília, a naive romantic, dreams of falling in love with a gentleman and escaping to a big city. Quick-tempered Luzia also longs for escape, finding it in her craft and secret prayers to the saints she believes once saved her life. But when Luzia is abducted by cangaceiros led by the infamous Hawk and Emília stumbles into a marriage with the son of a wealthy and politically powerful doctor, the sisters' quiet lives diverge in ways they never would have imagined. -- Harper
As you probably know if you are a regular reader of this blog, I love historical fiction. It's probably because I like to learn something when I read (although I'm not a huge non-fiction fan.) However, I know that I also really appreciate how an author incorporates factual information into fictional characters' lives. The latest historical fiction book that I can't rave enough about is THE SEAMSTRESS by Frances de Pontes Peebles.
I admit that I usually shy away from books this long (it's over 650 pages), but after I read the description, I knew I had to read it -- it sounded so good to me. It did take me a few days to read THE SEAMSTRESS, but it was so worth it! After I finished the book, I called both my dad and my sister and told them they just had to read it. And if my word isn't enough to convince you, THE SEAMSTRESS has already been awarded the Winner of the Friends of American Writers Award for Fiction and Elle Magazine's Grand Prix 2008 for Fiction.
THE SEAMSTRESS is one of my favorite reads of the year. It did start out a little slow for me, but I don't know if that's because I just couldn't focus on it without distractions. I will say this (don't think I'm awful) that I did find myself hiding out in my bedroom so I could read this book in peace! I didn't want to miss a thing about this amazing story and its amazing characters. Since the book was about Brazil in the 1920 and 1930s, a place and time in history that I knew absolutely nothing about, I was fascinated by so much of it. I enjoyed learning about the political environment in Brazil at that time as well as the changing role of women, yet I also found the entire lifestyle of the cangaceiros to be incredible. What I think I appreciated the most though, was how the author managed to juxtapose the two sisters' lives (one was unhappily married to an influential family while the other was living as an outlaw in the wild) while also showing their similarities.
I don't think I can even begin to express what an amazing writer Ms. Peebles is. Her storytelling abilities are remarkable, and her prose is just beautiful too. She created two incredibly real and complicated characters that are just so memorable. I am just blown away by how she effortlessly she went back and forth between the sisters' lives while also linking certain events to both of them. It was incredibly well done! I also loved how she incorporated so much symbolism into this novel especially as it pertained to a seamstress' skills. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Peebles, check out this wonderful interview where she explains some of the ideas behind her book. Harper Collins also has a fun page devoted to the author; and Ms. Peebles also has her own website and maintains a blog.
I think THE SEAMSTRESS would make for a wonderful book club book even though it's a little bit (well, a lot) longer than most of the books my group reads. Don't let the length discourage you from picking it though -- maybe you could read it over the course of two months. I know when I finished this novel, I immediately wanted to talk about it with someone; and I'm sure you will feel the same way. There is a reading guide available with some great questions. Some of the topics for discussion include: sisterhood, love and marriage, honor, redemption, Brazil's political environment, and lots of symbolism. It really is a very complex novel that has remained in my thoughts for days!
A few days ago, Ms. Peebles discussed her novel on BlogTalk Radio. You can listen to the show in its entirely here. I was fortunate enough to listen live, and hearing the author discuss her novel definitely enhanced my reading experience.
Thanks to Stephanie from Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.