Samuel Park – The Caregiver

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Samuel Park – The Caregiver

In the 1990s, Mara Alcenar is living in California and working as a caregiver for a woman who suffers from cancer. She has been in the US for many years, illegally like so many others and always struggling to survive and hoping not to be caught. Yet, going back to Brazil is not an option; it is just her thoughts that frequently return to her native country. She remembers the time when she was six and living with her mother Ana who worked in the film industry and dubbed foreign productions. She was also a great actor which lead her to a fatal decision: being offered a “role” by leftist rebels, Ana Alcenar couldn’t refuse. She needed the money for herself and Mara. But then, something went completely wrong at the Police Chief’s office. Years later, Mara is a teenager and gets the chance to revenge her mother – but is the episode as she remembers is actually the truth?

Samuel Park’s novel “The caregiver” focuses on two completely different aspects: on the one hand, he addresses political questions such as the military rulers of South America in the 20th century and the precarious situation of immigrants from these countries in the US. On the other hand, he has a very personal topic that the novel makes you think about: what do loving and caring mean and how far would you go for the ones you love?

For me, the parts of the novel that are set in Rio de Janeiro were the most impressive. The author really gives you a good idea of how life was like under those political circumstances and how important your personal bonds were to survive. The neighbour becomes crucial for survival, you find yourself quickly caught between the lines and even if you want to keep away from politics, this isn’t always possible. And there is not just black and white, but many shades of grey.

The question of what loving somebody means is also crucial in the novel. Not the love between lovers, but much more the compassion you feel towards family members and those close to you, how much you are willing to endure and even more importantly: how much you are willing to forgive and to forget.

A novel full of food for thought and at the same time wonderfully written.

Chico Buarque – My German Brother

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Chico Buarque – My German Brother

It is by coincidence that the Brazilian musician and author learns that his dad fathered a boy when he lived in Germany. Their house has always been full of books, his father a passionate historian and writer, horded them and, at times, forgot letters and other things in them. It is such a letter that Chico finds which indicates that his father had an affair with a certain Anne Ernst when he lived in Berlin as a journalist around 1930. Later, when the Nazi regime took over, he tried to bring his son to Brazil. Since father and son hardly talk to each other, it is not an option for Chico to ask him about the unknown half-brother, thus, Chico starts his research on his own.

Even though the book is classified as fiction, it is based on Chico Buarque’s life and the facts he reports about his father and German brother are actually true. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda spent some time in Berlin where Sergio Günther was born who later became a well-known artist in the German Democratic Republic. Unfortunately, the brothers never had the chance to meet.

I really appreciate Buarque’s tone of narration, especially at the beginning, the light-heartedness with which the young men move around town is well transferred into the language the author uses. Interesting to observe are the family structures. Even though the father’s main occupation is closely linked to language in all shapes and forms, the family members hardly find a way to communicate with each other and the most important things remain unsaid. A third aspect which struck me was the part in the novel which gives insight in the time of the military regime. Hardly do I know anything about the country’s history, therefore those glimpses are most fascinating.

Sometimes life itself invents the best stories. Even though some of it is fictional, I found Chico Buarque’s story about his mysterious brother most intriguing and a perfect example of how complicated families and our lives can be.

Daniel Galera – The Shape of Bones

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Daniel Galera – The Shape of Bones

Porto Alegre, early in the morning. A man gets up to meet his friend for a hiking trip. He does not wake up his wife or child. Yet, instead of getting to the meeting point, he decides to go somewhere else. A place he left years ago. A place of his past, where one day, he decided to become to man he is now. While getting closer to his destination, memories of the past, long ago buried deep in his brain, come to the surface and he has to face the worst moment of his life again. Today, he needs to do something about it, but can he ever correct what he has done wrong so long ago?

I needed some time to get into the novel. At first, I could not really get together the two plot lines and then I was not really sure which of the boys of the past is the man we get to know in the present. However, while reading and while slowing understanding Daniel Galera’s narrative, more and more suspense is created and you get curious to know what happened, what made him to man we see now.

From the innocent cyclist, he turns into a carefree teenager who enjoys himself with his friends. At the end, he is a rational, rather unemotional and very controlled adult. The relationship with his wife seems to be hardly affectionate, I was not sure if their marriage was already at an end or if this was really due to his character. In his profession, he is considered a prodigy. The doctor who everybody wants to consult, who can communicate with the patients and who is selflessly sacrificing his life for others. Yet, we slowly learn about his dark sides and the decisive point in his life which is not only a surprise, but also a very convincing explanation for how the character could develop in this way.

All in all, not a novel you can easily access, but it is worth the effort to get a complex psychological analysis of a very interesting character.