The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha

I’d requested this book from the library so long ago, that I forgot all about it. So when the notice came that The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao was ready for pick up, I was confused.  What was this book and why had I requested it?  But, just look at that fun cover.   I gamely brought it home, opened it up and was soon immersed.

The author is a Brazilian journalist and her deft writing (and the excellent translation) take us from 1880 through 1960’s Brazil.

Come with me for a romp to 1940’s Rio de Janeiro, a with an extended cast of wonderfully drawn family and neighbors.

Euridice reluctantly ends up marrying Antenor, a successful banker who dreams of climbing the corporate ladder. Their marriage struggles from the beginning when, on their wedding night, it appears (no blood on the sheets) that Euridice may have not been a virgin. Despite his wife’s protests that his claims are false, Antenor has bouts of depression and drinking which are called ‘Nights of Whiskey and Weeping’.  Ms. Batalha somehow  makes this dysfunction slyly amusing, as Euridice gamely brings him handkerchiefs and fresh glassware.

Euridice wants nothing more that to maintain a perfect family life for her two children and husband. But soon our smart and creative Euridice, chafes at the role of obedient housewife.  Bored, she starts cooking elaborate meals for her less than appreciative husband and children. She shops high and low for the necessary ingredients and spices, only to have her meals tossed in the garbage. She is continuously ridiculed by the town gossip, (a wonderfully cranky character) and while her neighbors comment on the wonderful aromas coming from her kitchen, they gossip about the amount of money she spends on food.

Despite the lack of praise, she knows her recipes are good and copies them into a notebook.  Euridice approaches her husband with idea of publishing a cookbook, but Antenor cruelly shoots down the idea: “Stop kidding around, woman. Who buys a book written by a housewife?“

She rationalizes her lot in life and spends her time just sitting, staring at the bookcase:

…she knew, [he] was a good husband. Antenor never disappeared for days and never lifted a hand to her. He brought in a good salary, complained very little, and conversed with the children.

Euridice rediscovers her creativity through the purchase of a sewing machine and becomes a coveted seamstress — styling beautiful and perfectly fitted dresses for the women in the neighborhood. The house is soon full of beautiful fabric, happy women, a helper seamstress, and laughter.  All carefully picked up and packed away before her husband arrives home for dinner.

But again, her ambitions are squashed when Antenor hears about her ventures from — guess who – the neighborhood gossip.  He shuts down her thriving business, claiming it unseemly for her to be sewing for money when he brings home more than enough for all her needs. He fears that the news his wife is working will limit his upward mobility at the bank.

Ms. Batalha takes us back in time and through the family history and we realize that Euridice’s dreams and ambitions have always taken a second role to her obligations.  Her life has been a string of unfulfilled dreams.  When her older, beautiful sister Guida elopes with an unsuitable man, at her parents insistence, Euridice turns her back on a potential musical career and takes on her obligation of dutiful and obedient daughter.  Thus the title– The Invisible Life of Euridice, or as the author puts it — ‘The Side of Euridice that Didn’t Want Euridice to Be Euridice’.

Back in Rio, Guida, the long-lost sister suddenly returns leaving her disastrous marriage, and with her own tale of survival and abuse.  Even  living as a a caretaker for an ailing, toothless, conniving prostitute.  (I know — where did author get these characters?)  Guida’s story is told with compassion, humor and even more wonderful characters.  Guida soon finds a potential new husband who comes from great wealth.  Just marvel at this passage, how Ms. Batalha captures the family wealth by describing the mother’s upbringing…

Eulalia (mother to Guida’s potential wealthy husband) grew up believing that abundance was a birth-right.  It was normal to have piles of clothes.  Normal to have her shoelaces tied by her nursemaid, normal to feed the fox terrier the pieces of chicken denied to the servants.  The poor existed so she could wear new gloves and not soil her hands distributing alms after Mass.  School existed for her to learn French, and to know hoe to order a croissant in a boulangerie during the family vacations in Paris.  And the soirees in her house existed for her to meet a suitor of her caliber, marry, and give birth to four children, who would be raised by a nursemaid.  Eulalia had more important things to worry about than bringing up her own children — being rich, for example.

Then here’s a mere minor character, who the author perfectly captures in once pithy sentence:

She had short hair, narrow eyes, and an awkward smile, the kind that asks permission to express itself.

Eventually in the 1960s, Euridice is still spending her days staring at the bookcase until one day it dawns on her that she should read those books.  So she does, and then once she’s read all the books in the house —  she reads many more.    Children grown and husband settled in the upper ranks of the bank, Euridice starts writing, busily clacking away at the typewriter and hiding the pages in a desk drawer — the title — ‘The History of Invisibility’.

I’ve fear I made this book sound depressing, but it’s not – really, not at all.  It balances the melancholy with sly humor and is filled to the brim with enough gasp-inducing Latin drama for a telenovela.

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao is a thoroughly engaging story  –a story of disastrous, yet, loving families, faithful friendships, and broken hearts all held together by strong, stubborn, beautiful women.

 

I finally remembered that I initially got wind of this of this book on My Life In Books blog.  Go read Susan’s review.

Catching up to the New Year

Every year I look forward to a quiet week between Christmas and New Years. The holiday feeling is still in the air, the house is cozy and perfect for some major league reading.

Happily, once again, the week was jammed with fun events — entertaining friends, a belated Christmas celebration with others…and even a BBQ with some other friends (sorry to those on the East Coast, but we did eat indoors).

Given all this merriment, I’ve yet to catch up with the New Year and have neglected Book Barmy.

So my New Year starts today.   Putting away Christmas things, the last of the treats have been eaten (except for some very yummy peppermint fudge ice cream which only comes out once at year from our favorite ice cream place), and I’m back here to tell you about a book I did get to read last week.

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Last Christmas In Paris

by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

 

In spite of the cheesy cover, this novel grabbed me from the opening pages  — and why not?  It’s written in my favorite epistolary style, set during WWI, and somewhat about Christmas.

 

 

From the blurb:

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.  But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie, is a British society girl who yearns to do more for the war effort than rolling bandages and knitting socks.  Her best friend Alice, her brother, and her brother’s best friend Thomas are all on the front line and having seemingly exciting adventures.

Last Christmas in Paris was co-written by two authors Ms. Gaynor wrote as Evie, and Ms. Webb wrote as Thomas, Evie’s brother’s best friend, a scholar who sees the war as a chance to escape from running the family newspaper.  This results in two distinct voices, which through their letters reveal their personalities,  hopes, and ultimately their fears during this ‘war to end all wars’.

Initially the letters are full of lighthearted banter as this young group is carried along by the excitement of war, but as the battlefields of France become a nightmare, the letters become start to contain raw emotions, fear and wistfulness for a lost youth.

This is a correspondence of friends evolving- learning war is no great adventure after all, falling in love, and the uncertainly of the future.    Ultimately this is a romance, but set against the backdrop of a brutal war.  The psychological shell shock that beset many soldiers and how they were treated.  The ravages of the Spanish Flu epidemic and the hardships for woman — both involved in the war and at home in Britain.

I devoured Last Christmas in Paris and was drawn in by the fascinating and sometimes haunting letters. There are telegrams interspersed which give the reader the urgency of communicating life-changing words and feelings all during the brutality of war.

There is a timelessness about these letters back and forth — because the expressions of friendship, misgivings, fear, and ultimately, love are indeed timeless.  Our mode of communication may have changed in the modern day – but not the heart-felt human emotions.

Because Last Christmas in Paris is not really about Christmas, I recommend this fascinating novel any time of the year.

 

A digital advanced readers copy was provided by HarperCollins via Edelweiss.

 

 

 

A Christmas Favorite

A Tree-less Christmas

It’s a tree-less Christmas this year.  We do not have a tree.

Due to the Northern California fires and the drought, fresh trees are very expensive.  And because they’ve traveled a great distance  –they all looked pretty beat up.  We’re still reluctant to go the artificial tree route, so we decided to rethink Christmas decorations this year.

First, we put lights on big wreath and hung it in our front window, thereby maintaining some street cred on our city block.

Then I gathered my collection of pine cones from our Sierra hiking trips and created a little Christmas tableau in what we grandly call the library, but, in actuality is just a small and cozy reading nook.

Thought you might like to see some photos.

 

I pricked my poor fingers jimmying all the little lights into the pine cones, until I had them just right.  Then, I dug out my favorite vintage Christmas and Scandinavian cards and hung them.

Interspersed with some birch bark candles and cute singing robins.  Well, it feels like Christmas in our cozy little house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out quite pretty, if I do say so myself…and I gaze upon it happily each evening, as it’s just across from my reading chair.

Enjoy your own holiday decorations~~ tree or no tree.

Just Passing Through

Throughout the year, I collect Christmas books at the library book sales and from my favorite book store.  These books are often planned as Christmas gifts and, as such, are just passing through my little book filled house.

The weeks before Christmas are busy, and I don’t have a lot of time to read, so I pick through my stack of Christmas gift books, ready to be wrapped, choosing short ones to read just before bed.

Here are three that are sure to please my intended recipients and perhaps yours as well:

The Mysterious Toyshop by Cyril W. Beaumont

This lovely little book will please not only older children, but also adults.  Written in 1924, The Mysterious Toyshop is a compelling example of relatively early science fiction, combined with a bit of the Brother’s Grimm. Written in Victorian style, the book tells the tale of a wonderful toyshop that suddenly appears in an abandoned building in a small village, run by an equally curious toymaker.  The toys are mechanical and uniquely magical. And the shop itself – well, just read this description:

It was a long rambling room, bull of bends and corners that seemed to say: “You loose yourself if you’re not careful.  The first object to meet the eye was a large doll places just inside the doorway.  [Its] arm was outstretched and held a silver wand which pointed towards a long glass-covered counter, heaped with objects to tempt the most exacting child.  The walls were lined with shelves and cases full of toys and bright coloured boxes, with their lids raised ever so slightly to afford a tantalizing peep at the treasure within.  The ceiling was dazzling in its light and colour, for it was covered with convex and concave mirrors.

The townspeople are bewildered by the toymaker who only sells some of the toys, some of the time, to some of the customers —

…the more pressing a the customer became the more evasive would be the toymakers replies.

Those fortunate enough to purchase one of these mechanical wonders, host parties to show off their acquisitions.

Then, an pompous aristocrat demands that a toy be made exactly for him, but the old toymaker resists. He does not take commissions, the aristocrat makes a fuss and the toyshop disappears as mysteriously as it appeared.

I fell hard for this book based on illustrations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A short, very interesting story and perfect for reading aloud to both children and adults.  I know just the parents and child…in a few years.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Christmas Rose by Sepp Bauer ~~Illustrated by

Else Wenz-Victor 

Like the previous volume, I was taken with the cover and exquisite illustrations for this little fairy tale.  First published in Germany in the 1920’s, this advent story is told in parts one for each day from Saint Nikolaus’s Day – December 6 to Christmas Eve.

A classic  tale of two little children who must find a blossom from the only rose that blooms at Christmas, as one whiff of this rose will cure their father’s illness.

The illustrations are pure enchantment, which I think any child will love, I know I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This goes to a German friend and proud grandmother.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James

I have read everything – yes everything written by P.D. James, so I was all in when these previously unknown stories were published after her death.

So grab a cup of cocoa and light the fire…this is a quick read to cozy up with any night during the holiday season.

The title story is a classic drawing room murder, complete with a body found in a locked library.  But as always, the author’s descriptions of place lift her writing beyond the common place mystery story:

…[my first sight of Stutleigh Manor].  It loomed up out of the darkness, a stark shape against a grey sky pierced with a few high stars.  And then the moon moved from behind a cloud and the house was revealed; beauty, symmetry and mystery bathed in white light.

Our narrator looks back 52 years to a Christmas spent at her grandmothers manor and a suspicious death.  Now the successful crime writer, the only member of the family still alive, can tell the real story.

The manor is creepy, the Christmas decorations sparse – just a few sprigs of holly here and there, and our narrator is suspicious of one of the guests. The story is riveting, and despite who you think did it, I’m guessing you’ll be surprised by the last sentence.

The second story, A Very Commonplace Murder is Ms. James at her creepy best.  A psychological study of a voyeur who cleverly convinces himself, and the reader, he is doing the right thing by keeping silent about something evil he observed. Again, the ending will surprise.

The final two stories The Boxdale Inheritance and The Twelve Clues of Christmas feature a young Adam Daglish – bumbling through a crime in the first story and, in contrast, amusing and clever in the last.

While these are short yet complex stories, and, as in her novels, Ms. James always delivers a sly twist — that we never see coming — but rather than feeling duped we are totally entertained.

This went to one of my biggest Book Barmy fans, my mother.

In the Dark Streets Shineth by David McCullough

In the Dark Streets Shineth packs alot of Christmas spirit in a very small book.

Written by author and historian David McCullough, it recounts the infamous meeting of Churchill and Roosevelt during Christmas of 1941.

Churchill traveled in great secrecy and at considerable risk across the ocean to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt poses the question;  How we can celebrate Christmas because of the war?”

And, so they both spoke from the Whitehouse balcony to a crowd at twilight Christmas Eve.  A reporter notes

A crescent moon hung overhead.  To the southward loomed the Washington Monument …as the sun dipped behind the Virginia hills.

Both speeches are in the book so I’ll only quote a few lines which moved me.

Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies.                                                     Roosevelt

Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.               Churchill

 

Christmas morning, Churchill and Roosevelt attended Christmas services together and they sang Oh Little town of Bethlehem, which Churchill had never heard before.

The book has numerous and rare photos from the World War II meeting — photos of the meeting but also of the Roosevelt family celebrating in the Whitehouse.

Here they are on the White  House Balcony…

The book goes on to share the stories behind the traditional Christmas carols ~~ Oh Little town of Bethlehem and I’ll be Home for Christmas.

There’s a DVD included with this book — in it, David McCullough presents the story at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2009 Christmas concert.

See what I mean?  Quite the little book, and well worth adding to your Christmas book collection.

North Wind Manor by T. L. Chasse

My mother in law hailed from Maine and years ago we read and exchanged a series of books by Elizabeth Ogilive  — romantic mysteries set in the small villages and islands of Maine.  Ever since then, and because she was one of my favorite people, I have a soft spot towards anything set in Maine.

So when North Wind Manor came across my radar — just look at that cover — I broke my own rule and asked the author for a copy of this self-published debut to review here on Book Barmy.  Happily, Ms. Chasse agreed and I closed the last chapter just the other night with a sigh of contentment.

Turns out this was a lovely first read for my holiday reading season.

Katie escapes her abusive step-father, to live with her long-lost grandparents in New Hampshire.  On her way, she gets off the bus at a rest stop and mistakenly gets back on a different bus headed to Maine.  Confused, without any belongings, and sick with flu, she arrives in the village of Vintage, Maine and is rescued by Bobby, who himself was rescued by an elderly man named Harry.

Harry has recently died and left his home, North Wind Manor to Bobby who befriended him.  Bobby now has a large home and opens up a private room and bath to Katie as she recovers her health.

Bobby and Katie form a sweet friendship and Bobby’s funny and gentle manner slowly wins Katie’s cautious affection. With Katie, we are taken into the comforting arms of small town Vintage, Maine and Bobby’s friends and relatives. Once recovered, Katie finds a job at the local diner where she slowly starts to feel part of the village.

Beneath all this happiness, Katie knows she can’t stay forever, so she contacts her grandparents in New Hampshire.  Arrangements are made for her to go and stay with them for a bit.  Here the story takes an unexpected turn. I will tell you no more — other than there’s a heroic rescue, interesting characters, and some exiting events.

North Wind Manor is a delightful, non-violent story, populated with real characters.  It is a credit to Ms. Chasse’s pacing that I found myself turning the pages, just as with a thriller, to be sure everything turned out alright – and you can trust me, everything does.

Some of my favorite bits were the descriptions of the Maine weather and the lovely coziness of being snowed-in (as if snowed in myself, I cuddled up with a cup of cocoa).  I liked the characters and enjoyed their dialogue which is sprinkled with gentle humor and insight. There’s a wonderful homage to Beauty and the Beast when Bobby shows Katie his library. But the best thing about North Wind Manor is the storyline — love found, then lost, the value of friends and community — and finding one’s real family in an unexpected place.

If there are any editors or publishers reading this, you’ll want to keep an eye on Ms. Chasse.  While still a bit raw around the edges, she has excellent pacing and is a natural storyteller.  In my humble opinion, Ms. Chasse and her Vintage, Maine books have the potential of becoming a best-selling series.

 

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest and non-compensated review.

Packages are mailed, cards sent, and now I’m able to get to my holiday reading, so stay tuned…