The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha

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Title: The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao
Author: Martha Batalha,  Eric M B Becker (Translation)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Topics: Women’s emancipation, domestic life, Brazil
Publisher: ONEWorld Publications
Publishing Year: 2017
Pages: 240 pages
Format Read: Hardcover
My Rating: 4/5
 

This book is an absolute delight. This book is what I like to call a “tiramisu” read: it is sweet and easy to devour quickly but also surprisingly layered and complex if you take the time to savor it. This book really took me by surprise. I’m not going to lie: It was a major cover buy (I mean look at that gorgeous cover!) and I rolled my eyes at the overused title structure ( I have read at least one and seen at least two other books titled “The Invisible Life of___”) so I was expecting a fluffy, light summer read and while this book is compulsively readable it also sparkles with sharp wit, charm and a strong dash of feminism.

Summary: Euridice is young, beautiful and ambitious, but when her rebellious sister Guida elopes, she sets her own aspirations aside and vows to settle down as a model wife and daughter. And yet as her husband's professional success grows, so does Euridice's feeling of restlessness. She embarks on a series of secret projects - from creating recipe books to becoming the most sought-after seamstress in town - but each is doomed to failure. Her tradition-loving husband is not interested in an independent wife. And then one day Guida appears at the door with her young son and a terrible story of hardship and abandonment. The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao is a wildly inventive, wickedly funny and keenly observed tale of two sisters who, surrounded by a cast of unforgettable characters, assert their independence and courageously carve a path of their own in 1940s Rio de Janeiro. A deeply human and truly unforgettable novel from one of the most exciting new voices in world literature. 

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 Euridice is a quiet but brilliant, middle class Brazilian housewife who’s talents have never been recognized by her husband. This all changes when her sister Guida returns home after a long disappearance and turns her life around. This book is told in a conversational, almost gossipy tone, in which the narrator relates stories to the reader that allegedly occurred about some of the side characters and often digressing to dive into their backstories. Thus the secondary characters which could easily be reduced to one dimensional tropes like the gossipy neighbor, the insufferable mother-in-law and the absentee-father become fully fleshed out each with their own history, dreams and motivations. This keeps the story interesting but also reveals the hidden depths of each character reminding us that there is more to everyone (not just Euridice) than meets the eye.

Despite it’s light tone and often digressing structure this book does not shy away from the darker aspects of Brazilian society including classism, sexism and racism. Like in a lot of Latin America, opportunities and privileges can be sharply defined by your skin color, economic status or sex. We see this most obviously in the character of Euridice herself whose status as middle class housewife defines which of her pursuits are ‘acceptable’ and which are not. Despite these limitations, Euridice remains relatively privileged in a vastly unequal society and the narrative is generally framed by this particular social bubble although we do get glimpse into the lives of those who are less and more fortunate as they intersect Euridice’s life. 

At its heart this novel is deeply human. It explores the extraordinary in the ordinary, the limits that society and that we place on ourselves and what happens when you test those limits. It is hilarious at times and heartbreaking at others. If you are a fan of fun, slightly quirky books à la Fredrik Backman or Muriel Barbery with a quietly radically feminist take I highly recommend you pick this one up!
 

Read if you like:

  • Quirkiness
  • Well-developed characters
  • A dash of quiet feminism