This is a story of a teenage girl unravelling the mysteries of her identity. Vanja is 13, newly arrived in Colorado from Brazil, living with a man called Fernando about whom we know nothing. “I was 13. Being 13 is like being in the middle of nowhere. Which was accentuated by the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere.” Vanja’s mother dies and she leaves behind the ‘crow blue’ shells of Copacabana beach for the USA.
Her voice grabbed me from the beginning and, although at times I was a little lost with the narrative drive of her story with lots of side roads telling Fernando’s history as a freedom fighter in Brazil, Vanja’s voice kept me reading. I wanted to know the answers to the questions she was chasing on her road trip from Colorado to New Mexico.
She is on the cusp of womanhood and this gives her some nice observations of American society, words from the mouth of an innocent who is starting to see the world and people around her in a more adult way. “A woman passing my chair as she returned from the pool said I had a nice tan. When she smiled, her eyes disappeared into the folds of fat that covered her face. She looks like a feather pillow, I thought.” To Vanja, swimming pools in Colorado mean large bikinis and full-piece bathing suits; swimming pools at Copacabana, where she grew up, meant butt cheeks.
The sections on guerrilla warfare left me cold, I’m afraid. I had no idea of the history of Brazil at this time, which probably would have helped me, and I didn’t identify with the characters and their confusing code names. These sections were an intrusion into Vanja’s story.
As the road trip comes to a close and Vanja approaches her 14th birthday, she considers what it will mean to become an adult. “Fourteen was at least a nose in the adult world. And I had to unlearn all the codes I had learned to make way for others. Curiosity, for example: children had a gift for curiosity. Adults kept it chained up. In adults, curiosity shook paws, fetched balls and played dead.”
Lisboa was named on Granta’s list of ‘Best of Young Brazilian Novelists’ last year, she has written numerous novels and won prizes. But her name is relatively unknown here. To be fair, this book is set in the USA and is as much a comment on American society as Brazilian. It reflects our modern multi-cultural world and is a hopeful tale about finding your place in the world, finding your identity, and making a home wherever you are.
‘Crow Blue’ by Adriana Lisboa [UK: Bloomsbury Circus] Buy now
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