Sunday, October 16, 2016

Brazil: Crow Blue, by Adriana Lisboa

This book is narrated by Vanja (short for Evangelina), a young woman of around twenty two, telling of the events of her life at the age of about thirteen to fourteen. When her mother dies, she is taken in first by her foster aunt, and then she contacts her mother's ex husband Fernando, living in the United States, and travels to Colorado to live with him. Fernando was named as the father on Vanja's birth certificate, but he was not in fact her father, having already separated from her mother quite some time before she was born.

Vanja's motive in going to live with Fernando is to look for her birth father. This quest forms one thread of the story. Another is the back story of Fernando's past as a Communist guerilla in the Amazonian jungle. There are plenty of Latin American books in which violence - whether from, and inflicted upon, guerillas in the jungle, or in the crime ridden cities, features heavily. In this book it didn't feel particularly horrific because of the way it was told at a couple of removes from the action - filtered through Fernando's memories, and then through Vanja's, some years after the telling of it to her.

I read the book quickly, for the story. I would like to go back and read it again, for the language. In places it becomes quite poetic and, I felt, deserves deeper reflection. The title of the book comes from a poem, "The Fish" whose author is not named. I was thinking of Elizabeth Bishop but when I searched online, I realised it was another fish poem - Marianne Moore's. The crow blue shells of the ocean off Copacabana beach are referred to, and then later the shell blue crows of Colorado.

The descriptions of the ocean are quite lyrical - in contrast to the publicity at the time of the Rio Olympics, which suggested that the water of Copacabana beach is so heavily polluted that no one swims there, lest they get sick. Perhaps it was cleaner fifteen years or so ago, when Vanja was a child.

I chose Crow Blue because it was the most readily available of Adriana Lisboa's books. I located a couple more at online bookstores, but only in hardback, making them a little pricy. Adriana Lisboa was born in Rio de Janeiro, and has published eleven books including six novels. She currently lives in the United States. Her novel Symphony in White won the José Saramago prize. That one is set entirely in Brazil. I'm wondering if I can persuade our library to purchase a copy, as I'd like to read more of her work.

Crow Blue, by Adriana Lisboa, translated from Portuguese by Alison Entrekin, published by Bloomsbury Circus 2013.

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