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The Seamstress: A Novel Paperback – July 28, 2009
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"Prepare to be enthralled by the adventures of Emilia and Luzia...The Seamstress is truly original and distinctive." --Book Sense
"Over the course of the book, readers are taken on a deeply satisfying journey through Brazil via the mysteries and loyalties of the human heart." --Kirkus Reviews, 2008 First Fiction Special Edition
"Rollicking, violent and heartbreaking...a sweeping historical saga." --The Miami Herald
About the Author
Frances de Pontes Peebles's short stories have appeared in Indiana Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, and the collection O. Henry Prize Stories, 2005. Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, she is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She divides her time between Brazil and Miami.
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The novel, by Frances De Pontes Peebles, is epic--641 pages--but is worth every glorious minute. Occasionally, after spending a significant amount of time with a book I am truly sad when it finally comes to an end (ie. The Count of Monte Cristo). I feel this way about The Seamstress. I will miss it.
With passionate and lush writing, Peebles tells the story of two sisters living in Brazil during the political upheaval of the 1930's. While both women manage to escape the poverty of their orphaned childhoods in the mountains of Brazil, they lead drastically different adult lives. In spite of this, they are tied together by the bonds of sisterhood and their training as expert seamstresses.
Emelia and especially Luzia are unique heroines. Peebles created fascinating and complex women characters who are at once strong and fragile, righteous and wicked and nearly always sympathetic. The women are so real and deal with the entire spectrum of human emotion, it is at times hard to believe they are fictional characters.
While the images of violence are often brutal and barbaric, Peebles writes without vulgarity or unnecessary sexual content.
I often give a book five stars upon reading it and then change my mind the more I think about the book and deconstruct it's themes, characters and plot (ie. Ahab's Wife). At this moment, only minutes after reading the final pages, I unabashedly award five stars to The Seamstress.
This is a tale of two sisters, two seamstresses. Emilia and Luzia were both raised in their tiny and poor interior town to be seamstress's by their aunt. But Luzia is different. A childhood accident caused one of her arms to freeze at a right angel. It doesn't make any less of a seamstress but the deformity means she'll never marry and earns her the nickname Victrola. While Luzia fights back by being angry and silent, Emilia-the more beautiful sister-longs to escape to the big city, to be rich and never have to work.
Both of their lives are forever changed when the bandits of the backlands, the group led by the infamous Hawk. When the Hawk takes Luzia with him and makes her a part of his band and his legend, Emilia is left with only one desire-escape. And she manages her goal with a quick marriage to a man who uses her for his own purpose and brings her into the very family which may bring an end to her sister's life.
Emilia becomes a seamstress of the elite with her clothing designs and Luzia becomes the seamstress-a title given to her by the people of the interior for the embroidery she puts on the bandits clothing and the precision she learns with her gun. These two seamstresses are both experts with their craft but they soon learn that the parts of their very different lives have been sewn together and it may be that the life of one relies entirely on the actions of the other....
This is an excellently written novel. Not only is it a tale of the history of Brazil (why don't they teach this in school?) but of the complex relationships people form in families and in life and the interdependency of those relationships. This is one of those novels you'll have a hard time putting down. While parts of this novel are difficult to read because of the intensity of the writing and the story, it is a tale that will leave you both emotionally drained and fulfilled. In that way it's not a "fun" novel to read but it is an experience and an education.
One annoying thing about the book was the proliferation of untranslated Poruguese words, ones that even Google translate couldn't decipher. There wasn't even a glossary, and if I'm not mistaken the book was originally written in English, so I don't understand why I didn't get more language help.
Other than that, from the word images that I was able to derive from the book , the story place and time were very vivid and real.
Towards the end, I had to put the book down because I was frightened at how the plot was unfolding and it was clear that for some characters, things would not go well. And they didn't, but for others they did, so it was a very life like book, well drawn stories. this novel kept me reading and thinking.
At points I was not sure whether I would finish the book, but now having finished it, I think it is a book that will stay with me.
I give it a strong recommendation for those who have staying power and are like to peer into other different times and lives.
Most recent customer reviews
of Brazil; especially after the Olympics. Recommend!