From Publishers Weekly
This lavishly detailed if overlong debut novel set in 1920s and '30s Brazil follows two sisters who share excellent sewing skills, but take divergent paths into adulthood. Crippled by a childhood accident and mocked for her deformities, Luzia is considered unmarriageable. So after a bandit kidnaps her, she realizes that marrying the outlaw leader may be her only chance at independence and happiness. Beautiful Emília, yearning for the refinements of the big city, spurns her many rural suitors, but—reeling from her sister's abduction and her aunt's subsequent death—enters a disastrous marriage with a wealthy, suave stranger who has plenty of untoward secrets and a mother who treats Emília like dirt. The sisters' paths collide after Luzia, now mythologized as a vicious criminal known as the Seamstress, becomes targeted by Emília's criminologist father-in-law, unaware of the two women's connection. Though a good number of passages could have been left on the cutting-room floor, the leisurely pace and attention to detail immerse the reader in both gilded halls and unsavory bandit camps. (Aug.)
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*Starred Review* Two orphaned sisters grow up in a small town in northeastern Brazil. Emilia, the elder, reads fashion magazines and dreams of a life of refinement. Luzia, the younger, is partially crippled, and wilder. Both are taught to sew by their aunt Sofia, and later they put their skills to very different uses. Emilia impulsively marries the son of a wealthy doctor and escapes to Recife, where her dressmaking talents earn her an atelier and grudging acceptance by the upper crust. Luzia is carried off by the bandit Hawk and his cangaceiros, who roam the scrubland in search of money and food, and she gains notoriety as a female outlaw called “the Seamstress.” Set during the 1930s, when Brazil was beset by political instability and natural disaster, the narrative weaves back and forth between Luzia’s brutal life, accounts of which Emilia sometimes reads in the newspapers, and Emilia’s comfortable but empty existence, which Luzia sees depicted in out-of-date society pages. Though it’s overlong, this impressive first novel seduces with its sweeping story, strong characterization, and extraordinarily vivid detail. A good read-alike for fans of Isabel Allende. --Mary Ellen Quinn