Sunday, August 9, 2009

Review: The Seamstress

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.

17 comments:

Beth F said...

Awesome! I've heard good things about this, but your review has convinced this HF fan to be sure to read this novel.

Pam said...

I'm sorry, is there something wrong with hiding out in your bedroom with a book? ;O) Clearly not if it's this good! I've seen it a few places. I'll have t check it out.

Maizie Designs said...

I've heard that this is a good book and I'm off to the bookstore today. This could be the one I choose! Thanks!

Molly said...

This is the first I have heard of this book, but you have written a fantastic review that makes me want to add it to the TBR list.

PS -- I hide out in my book nook all the time to read; I consider part of the "blogger" job description :)

heatherlo said...

I hadn't heard of this one before, but your review has me totally convinced! Thanks so much.

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

I thought that this was just fantastic too. She gives such a sense of place and time!

Amy Reads Good Books said...

Great review! I saw this on one other blog, but now I know I really want to read it!

Holly said...

Great review. I've had this one on my list.

Book Escape said...

This book does sound amazing. I haven't read any historical fiction from this time/place. I'll have to check it out/

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great review! I love the part about hiding out to read!!!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Those author interviews always enhance the reading experience, don't they. Reading interviews is nice, but listening to the author's voice (and maybe being able to call in) is something else!

Julie said...

Great review, thanks! I am totally interested in reading this book now. I love the hiding out thing, too funny:)

jeff said...

A wonderful book to recommend to your readers: Men of Gain by McClelland. Unanimously enjoyed by my book club but contains some controversial discussion points.

bermudaonion said...

I thought this book was fantastic too! It started a little slow for me, but once I got into the story, I didn't want to put the book down. Great review.

Meghan said...

This one sounds great! Somehow I missed hearing about it before, but it's definitely on my radar now.

S. Krishna said...

I've been hearing great things about this book - I'll have to give it a try. Thanks for the review!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

Thanks for the great review. I tend to shy away from huge books too, but this one sounds really interesting.