The Seamstress, By Frances de Pontes Peebles

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The Independent Culture

Although this is Frances de Pontes Peebles' first novel, her prose flows with the assuredness of a natural storyteller's. Each sentence of her epic narrative is stitched with meaning and insight, and the reader's imagination is woven into the novel from the very first paragraph

We begin in 1935 in Recife, Brazil, where the married Emilia lives in the largest house in an area of newly built estates. She is living a life which at one time she could only dream of. But dreams, as she will learn, come at a price.

As orphaned children, Emilia and her deformed sister Luiza were brought up in a hillside village under the care of their Aunt Sofia. They worked as seamstresses, yearning to find a thread to take them away to a world elsewhere. Interwoven with their personal adventures is a slice of the fraught Brazilian history of the 1920s and 1930s: the economy is fast unravelling, and unrest and a clamouring for the rights of women are spreading as people attempt to fabricate feasible lives for themselves. The challenge facing Emilia and Luiza is how not to compromise their loyalties to themselves, and, most crucially, to each other.