Book Review: Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma


Coming of age tale of secrets and obsession

About the Book

Description (courtesy of Goodreads): Brazilian-born doctor André Cabral is living in London when one day he receives a letter from his home country, which he left nearly thirty years ago. A letter he keeps in his pocket for weeks, but tells no one about. The letter prompts André to remember the days of his youth – torrid afternoons on Ipanema beach with his listless teenage friends, parties in elegant Rio apartments, his after-school job at his father’s plastic surgery practice – and, above all, his secret infatuation with the daughter of his family’s maid, the intoxicating Luana. Unable to resist the pull of the letter, André embarks on a journey back to Brazil to rediscover his past.

Book Facts

  • Format: ebook
  • No. of pages: 240
  • Publication date: 23rd February 2017
  • Genre: Literary Fiction

My Review (3 out of 5)

This was one of those books where I could admire the quality of the writing without being particularly moved by the story or the characters. In fact, the story felt rather slight even for quite a short book. The author’s choice of a male narrator was interesting (and quite brave) but I’m not sure I got any additional insight into the character as a result.

The book flits between past and present as Andre, born in Brazil but now living in London, reminisces about his time growing up in Rio and his teenage infatuation with the family’s maid, Luana. The reminiscences are provoked by receipt of a series of letters from Luana after a space of many years.

I found Andre a very difficult character to identify with and I struggled to see what attraction he could have held for Luana. Both as an adult and a teenager, Andre comes across as totally self-obsessed. He doesn’t stay in touch with friends, remember the surnames of his previous lovers or appear to feel any obligation to commit to his marriage. Even during his relationship with Luana he shows no interest in finding out about her family or even where she and Rita, her mother, go on their rare days off.

‘She and Rita spent the weekend at Vidigal. Who with? Family, I suppose. Friends from the favela, who they never spoke of.’

When Andre learns details about his father’s activities, he doesn’t appear shocked. What comes across is a picture of an extremely stratified society where the rich of Rio live in apartments in gated communities overlooking Ipanema beach attended to by maids from the favelas.  Andre just seems to accept this divide as an ‘accident of birth’.

Despite becoming a doctor in later life, Andre shows no empathy for his patients whom he describes as ‘local hypochondriacs, idlers, depressives and overprotective mothers.’  In fact, Andre seems overwhelmed by self-pity so much so that he seems surprised that his wife’s reaction to reading Luana’s letters is to feel sorry for her not for him: ‘She was crying for Luana, not for me.’

However, I must give the author credit for the wonderful and evocative depictions of Brazil, its landscape and people. The colour of Brazil contrasts with the dull, grey tones of the descriptions of London.

I was sorry I couldn’t love this book more because I think the writer shows real promise.

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers Penguin UK in return for an honest review.

To buy a copy of Flesh and Bone and Water from, click here

In three words: Thoughtful, reflective, lyrical

Try something similar…Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak (click here to read my review)

Luiza About the Author

Luiza Sauma was born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in London. She has an MA in Creative & Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she was awarded the Pat Kavanagh Award in 2014, and she has also been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Flesh and Bone and Water is her first novel.

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