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The Seamstress: A Novel Hardcover – August 5, 2008

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The Story Behind the Book
Read the fascinating story [PDF] behind The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060738871
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060738877
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,084,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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

Customer Reviews

I can't wait to read the next book by this talented new author.
Peggy Stortz
Much too long a story and it would have been better if it was 200 pages shorter.
Jane Upp
A well written novel of enchanting characters set in the periphery of Brazil.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By L. Jenkins on July 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Many other fine reviews here have provided excellent and very detailed synopses of this book. As stated, the actions took place in the time frame between 1928 and 1935 in Brazil and follow the lives of two sisters whose lives diverged in their late teens due to fate and circumstance.

The author wove the stories together along with the major events of the times in a very effective manner. The chapters were each relatively long, however, I particularly liked the fact that these long chapters were broken up into multiple sub-chapters. Each chapter focused on one sister or the other in an alternating manner. I was almost immediately swept up into the lives and adventures of each sister.

Frances De Pontes Peebles did a superb job, in my opinion, of keeping the mystery and the suspense alive throughout the book by dropping little tidbits of information. Like a trail of bread crumbs I just had to follow to find out what the circumstances were that had led to this or that development. As an example, in the prologue, Emilia's husband, Degas, is dead and the family is in mourning. Yet, in Emila's story we come to know Degas - his fears and his foibles - only gradually. Similar instances are expertly woven throughout.

Emilia intrigued me, nothing at the core of her existence, her horrible burden of guilt and remorse at having failed her younger sister, was ever allowed to escape for long past the placid, fashionable face that she presented to the world. She became a guiding force within the Women's Auxiliary while never actually becoming acceptable to them. The politics here was as tricky and risky for Emilia as the scrublands were for Luzia.

Antonio, "The Hawk", Luzia's husband was a dark, exciting character.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Seven Kitties on July 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The book is literary historical fiction set in 1930s Brasil. Two sisters from a small town are separated in their late teens--one taken by brigands, the other driven to pursue her ambition to own a house with a tiled kitchen. They can only follow each other's exploits through the newspapers at a time when Brasil undergoes a massive political upheaval and turn towards fascism. The story unfolds in alternating sections, overlapping in time, following each sister as she tries to navigate in a new environment's dangerous rules, while haunted by her sister's memory.

At its base, this book is about the relationship between two sisters as they change and grow and find (or don't find) what they were looking for. Everything you can imagine happens here--marriage, betrayal, love, death, secrets; and some of the best charged dialogue written in recent years. (Every time Dona Dulce opens her mouth, you'll wince!)

When I read novels of this sort--thick, dense, and inviting me into an entirely strange new world (just as Luzia and Emilia find themselves in new terrains, so does the reader)--I want to be completely swept away. At times, Peebles succeeds, making the caatinga or the persnickety society of Recife come to life. At other times, however, the 'fictive dream' seems muddled by slightly too-thin characterization. I never quite got my heart around Emilia--she starts out as more than a merely narcissistic self-absorbed silly teenager (weren't we all, once?), and seems downright mean from the get-go. I guess I never really forgave her that, nor did I see or understand what Luzia loved about her sister. And Emilia's actions change too much without explanation.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Patrick W. Crabtree VINE VOICE on July 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )

Here we have a novel which takes us far beyond the parameters of `women's reading'. This is an epic tale of Brazil, of interest to men and women alike. The story is conveyed through an insightful quilt-work of dichotomies and we get some great advice along the way, ergo: "Never trust a strange tape!" I can assure you now that you'll have to read through to near the end of this first-rate story to fully appreciate that sage little jot of counsel.

Descriptive Summary:

An actuality clearly imparted to readers of this book is that children are the same everywhere, regardless of a chronological era or of geography. After the Prologue we encounter the two dos Santos girls existing in derisory circumstances under the vigilant eye of a strict old aunt in a scrublands village of 1920s and `30s Northeastern Brazil: Taquaritinga. Early on, the younger and more tomboyish of the sisters, Luzia, experiences a great personal tragedy which defines her life's course - she falls from a mango tree while mischievously pilfering fruit and the impact of the fall leads to a minor brain injury as well as leaving her with a permanently disfigured arm. Due to a poorly-set bone by a local incompetent, the elbow becomes locked for life at a ninety-degree angle.

Not long after this, while Luzia is at school and defending her elder sister, Emília, from a youthful male antagonist, the bully orally retaliates by cleverly but brutally dubbing Luzia as "Victrola," thus comparing her pathetically angled arm to the brass playing arm of the now ancient but well-remembered, hand-cranked, trumpet-speakered RCA Victor phonograph.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews

More About the Author

Frances de Pontes Peebles was born in Recife, Brazil and raised in Miami, Florida. In 2000, she received a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and, in 2003, an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. After graduating from the Workshop, Peebles was awarded fellowships from the Fulbright Program, Brazil's Sacatar Foundation, and the Michener-Copernicus Society. Her short stories have appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories Anthology 2005, Zoetrope: All Story, The Indiana Review, and Missouri Review. In 2008, her debut novel, The Seamstress, received the Elle Grand Prix for Fiction.

In 2009, Peebles and her husband returned to Brazil to manage her family's farm, where they grow shade-coffee, bananas, cashews, and many native fruits. They also raise goats, pigs, and cater to the whims of seven spoiled dogs.

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