Emma is probably most writer’s dream editor. She cares about her author as much as she cares about her author’s books, but does she understand her author as much as she understands her books? That understanding may be reserved for the author’s family. When the celebrated Brazilian author Beatriz Yagoda goes missing, Emma, Beatriz’s daughter & son, & even Emma’s poor boyfriend, are the most effected. There’s also some seedy publishers, some loan shark gangsters, & a team of confused hotel employees who get pulled into Beatriz’s disappearing act in amusing & even emotional ways.
The relationship dynamics between these characters felt incredibly real even when the situations start to spiral into near fantastical whimsey. But overall the story wasn’t why I loved this book so much. This is one of the few occasions where the writing was infinitely more gripping than the plot. Novey could’ve written about grass growing & paint drying & I would’ve read it. There were times when it was like poetry. I also appreciate the lack of quote marks since it allows the reader to stay immersed in this semi-realistic/semi-fantastic landscape.
Between chapters there are also often definitions. The trick of starting an essay with the authoritative meaning of the topic of which you’re exploring is a classic trick, but these aren’t any definitions you’d find in a Webster dictionary. The words are simple: “promise,” “permission,” “jackpot,” “in.” But Novey creates subjective & specific definitions that fit with the overall theme that translations & transcriptions come in more ways than just from one language to another.
There’s another theme that each of the senses play a role throughout the novel as well, & of course the title is a hint that this will inform readers that Beatriz’s escape isn’t the only way to disappear. Lastly, there’s also an excellent gun scene that would make Chekhov applaud aloud.
Overall, I felt like I was reading it a lot faster than I probably was since a lot of the chapters are short, quite a bit are only one or two pages long. The fall after the climax gave me chills, the way each repetitive line shifts & even shifts into the next chapter at times in those last pages is so moving & memorable. It’s is probably better expressed through quotes than a review, but I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just leave these two from earlier on in the story.
“Because the world did not stop for lovers, Beatriz had written, lovers had no obligation to stop for the world or for the rain, for the beginning of a war or for its end.”
“And wasn’t the splendor of translation this very thing–to discover sentences this beautiful and then have the chance to make someone else hear their beauty who had yet to hear it? To arrive, at least once, at a moment this intimate and singular, which would not be possible without these words arranged in this order on this page?”
Also, the copy I have is an ARC. The cover has since (thanksfully) been changed & published & now looks like this:
P.S. After reading this, I’m convinced that yellow umbrellas have some inherited, symbolic significance ingrained for the human species