This historical epic set in 1920s and ’30s Brazil tells the story of two sisters, Emília and Luzia, and the bond they share despite the very different directions in which life takes them. They grow up in a small mountain town, where they eke out a living as seamstresses. Emília dreams of someday moving to a big city, dressing in fine clothes, and leaving poverty behind forever. Luzia, whose arm was deformed after a childhood accident, simply wants to escape her cruel nickname of “Victrola.” Emília eventually achieves her goals by marrying the rich Degas Coelho, but she find herself unprepared both for Degas’ family and for the strict rules of Brazilian high society. Meanwhile, Luzia is abducted by a gang of bandits led by the notorious Hawk, but she eventually discovers a certain aptitude for their way of life.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it paints an extremely vivid picture of Brazilian life during this time period, encompassing wealthy city dwellers, powerful country landowners known as “colonels,” and the impoverished rural folk who equally fear the colonels and the bandits as they constantly prey upon each other. I know basically nothing about Brazilian history, so it was fascinating to immerse myself in this unfamiliar setting. I also really liked the central relationship between Emília and Luzia; even though they are very different people, and they don’t spend much time together in the novel, they still share an obvious bond. On the other hand, the book is very slow-paced, and I honestly found it a slog a lot of the time. It’s definitely worth reading if the setting interests you, but I must admit, I’m just relieved to have finished it!