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Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

First published in Great Britain in 2017; published by Scribner on June 20, 2017

Flesh and Bone and Water tells a big story in a small way. The novel is a family drama, focusing on one family member and the harm he inadvertently does to his family and future by falling in love.

André Cabral receives a letter from Luana in Brazil. Now living alone in a London flat after separating from his wife, André has not seen Luana in 30 years. He cannot remember her last name, but the letter prompts memories of his Brazilian childhood.

Luana was the daughter of his family’s black maid/nanny. Most of the novel is told in memory: André and his brother Thiago growing up in Rio; their mother’s death; a family visit to Belém, accompanied by Luana; André’s introduction to Esther, his eventual wife, as he attends medical school in London; the deterioration of their marriage as “time rubs away the shine” of love.

Most of the backstory involves André’s forbidden infatuation. Luana is the daughter of a servant and not a fit mate for a boy who will one day become a doctor. But Luana is wrong for André for additional reasons that he does not understand at the time. Eventually, as more letters arrive, André learns a devastating truth about his past.

The story is told in quiet, straightforward prose. There is no melodrama in André’s account of a dramatic moment in his childhood and a dramatic revelation in the present. Much of the novel’s dramatic tension comes from André’s decision to confront the past that he fled when, to his father’s dismay, he settled down in London. There is no going back for André, even when eventually returns to Brazil with his daughter to make an attempt to atone. Like the rest of us, the best André can do is to feel his way forward as he works to reconcile has past and his present. The story's strength lies in its ability to convey a universal message in a personal way.


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