Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review: The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha

For many years, the work of women, the unpaid work that they did or do, has been invisible. There is, of course, the old joke that a husband comes home from work one day and sees that the house is a mess, the kids are running rampant, and there's no dinner waiting for him because his wife has taken to heart that he thinks she does "nothing" all day long and so has decided to live up to his belief and therefore has actually done nothing that day. It's a scenario that makes a point very clearly. He never saw the work she did until the day she chose not to do it. Her work, important as it was, was invisible until it was left undone. Martha Batalha's novel The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao comes from this same place of women's work and lives being invisible unless they buck what society expects of them.

Euridice marries her husband Antenor because that is what is expected of her. She will become a housewife and mother in 1940s Rio. And she plays her role but she doesn't embrace it or truly enjoy it. Instead she spends a long time looking for her purpose in life within the societal constraints placed on her. Before her marriage she was an exceptional recorder player. The hope of a musical life had to go by the wayside as she married and became a mother. Then she learned to cook exotic and impressive dishes. But that wasn't her calling either, and unusual foods didn't please her children or her husband. Then she taught herself to sew and became quite an accomplished seamstress, dressing first herself and then neighborhood women. But her husband objected to her working from home. Finally she becomes an author, tickety tapping away on her typewriter, either destined for greatness or for obscurity as she retells the story of her life. She is a determined and intelligent woman who finds her prescribed role boring. Her beautiful sister Guida took a different, less conventional path through life but she cannot tell her story completely any more than Euridice could live her story completely as she wanted even after she came back to the path society required of her.

This is very much a domestic novel filled with quirky, often frustrated characters. Euridice is strong, flexible, and yearning as a a character. She absorbs the disappointments of her life, which are all of the spiritual variety rather than the physical disappointments and trials her sister weathers, as best she can while still being a woman of her time. She is different in her striving for more, in her quest to be seen, and sometimes that opens her up to gossip and innuendo from others but she perseveres in creating in herself the accomplished and fulfilled woman she needs to be.  No matter where she is in her journey to herself, she remains a sympathetic character.  The novel definitely has the feel of contemporary South American literature, a certain sensibility that comes through tying it to a long tradition of Latinx writing. Quite character driven, this novel is an interesting and insightful look at the life and dreams of one eccentric mid-twentieth century Brazilian woman as she becomes visible to her family, her neighbors, and most importantly, to herself.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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