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Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters,  by Maria José Silveiral. 

May 20, 2020

her Mother's Mother's Mother and Her Daughters
Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters,  by Maria José Silveiral.  Translated by Eric Becker.  Open Letter Press, 2017.  First published in 2002 in Portuguese.

3 stars

A fictional account of twenty generations of women in a Brazilian family from the 1500s to the present by a Brazilian woman.

Maria José Silveiral is a significant Brazilian writer.  The original Portuguese version of Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters was published in Brazil in 2002.  The book was her debut novel, and won awards and a film contract.   She has gone on to write other novels, some of them for young adults.  In addition, she has been a translator and written plays.  At one point, she and her husband were forced into exile because of governmental oppression.  Yet little information about her was easily available online.

Although fictional, this is not a conventional novel.  There is no plot or even clearly defined theme.  There is no deep exploration of characters or relationships.  Instead,  Silveiral offers vignettes or chapters about each generation of women from the first contact between the original inhabitants of the land and the Portuguese to the twenty-first century.  For each of the mothers and daughters, Silveiral weaves individual stories into the larger context of how Brazil is changing and growing.  There is no claim of hereditary characteristics, and the characters are shaped by their land and their experiences. By focusing on women, she offers a subtle critique of the machoism and militarism of Brazil’s history.

A skilled writer, Silveiral provides a wide range of characters and incidents.  The people in her book are genetic mixtures of various ethnic groups; Indigenous, African, Portuguese and other Europeans.  They have different roles to play and sharply different personalities and attributes.  They engage in love and violence, and other passions.  Although we see them somewhat fleetingly in their separate chapters, they can leave an impact on readers.

I recommend this novel, particularly to readers who appreciate long, somewhat rambling historical accounts.

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