This year the Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro so our eyes are focused on Brazil. I’m aware that it is country of great beauty but also of extreme poverty with a history of political chaos so I was curious about what I would learn of the country in Rebecca Powell’s book.
The Brazilian Husband is written from the point of view of the English wife, Judith Summers, who is making her first visit to Brazil in order to return her husband’s ashes to his home. Accompanied by her sullen 16-year-old step-daughter, Rosa, things go wrong almost immediately when their luggage goes missing, but Judith bravely seeks out a contact of her husband in the steaming, busy streets of Recife. It appears that all he had told her of his life were lies and Judith still hasn’t told Rosa the truth about her own birth.
Interspersed with Judith’s account are chapter’s in Rosa’s words. Bitterly unhappy after the sudden death of her beloved father, Edson, she has become estranged from her mother and doesn’t know how to cope with her turbulent emotions and hormones. Both she and Judith are looking for identity and a future path in a violent and frightening context.
The story is set in 1996 when Lula, founding member of the Worker’s party is standing for election as President. One of the people campaigning on Lula’s behalf is Ricardo, a sad, handsome human rights lawyer, who knew Edson before he left the country, but at first he refuses to help Judith. We are taken back to 1978 in conversations between Ricardo’s dead wife and Rosa’s real mother Luciana and the truth of Rosa’s birth is gradually revealed.
This book is a romance, both personal for Judith, but also a romance with a country for her and her daughter. They begin to understand the “saudade” which Edson felt, that mixture of longing, melancholy and nostalgia for Brazil. An easy to read story, but also a book which captivates the soul.
Rebecca Powell was born in Bristol and has a degree in French and Portuguese from the University of Leeds. In her early twenties she worked for a year at a women’s shelter in the northeast of Brazil before moving to London, where she continued to work for a number of national charities. She now lives in the southwest of France with her husband and three children.