Bill Cusumano, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Frances de Pontes Peebles's The Seamstress [Harper, Aug.] is a novel as big, sprawling, lush and exotic as its locale, Brazil in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The stories of the dos Santos sisters, Emilia and Luzia (called Victrola because of a deformed arm) reflect a society caught between feudal mores and rising modernity. Emilia escapes the countryside by marrying the son of a wealthy doctor, while Luzia is taken by a group of cangaceiros, rebels and outlaws who terrorize the colonels in control of the interior. But which sister is truly the prisoner and who are the real criminals in society? The juxtaposition of the sisters is a mirror image of a world in turmoil and change. Emilia and Luzia use their skill with the needle to forge their identities, and Peebles uses hers to sew a tapestry of narration that holds the reader enthralled. Although the setting within Brazilian society may be exotic, the sisters' story is universal in its humanity.