In America, there were no metaphors. If a woman trusted her partner she didn’t say that she would set her hand on fire. When a woman had all the power, she didn’t say she had a knife and a piece of cheese in her hands. When she didn’t like an offer, she didn’t tell it to go back to the sea.
It isn’t lost on me that I read this novel while going through my own health scare, mine is intestinal. Books find us when we need them, without a doubt. It deeply saddens me to learn the author passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 41, more so after reading at the end of the book what he wrote in 2017 for the New York Times Sunday Review. “I had a 9 Percent Chance, Plus Hope.” It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.
Samuel Park surprises me with how perfectly he could write from the perspective of female characters. Getting into the female mind is no easy feat my friends. Mara Alencar adores her mother beyond life itself, Ana is her gravity and is willing to do anything to put food in her daughter’s belly and a roof over their heads. Life is hard, but she never shows the exhaustion and sadness her single mother status puts on her shoulders. Working as a voice-over actress, a beauty herself, it’s not nearly enough to keep them afloat and this is just one of the many reasons Ana finds herself entangled in a dangerous scheme. With bravery, or stupidity, she becomes involved with young rebels out to take down the corrupt Police Chief, holding captive their friends in Rio De Janeiro. No one is a better actress than Ana, a talent that they sorely need to distract the Chief. Chaos ensues when their plan takes a dangerous turn, and nothing will be the same for Ana and Mara. The child sees more than her young mind can process.
Mara doesn’t know who her father is, but has always lived a happy life in the light of her mother’s love. Lately, her mother has changed and paranoia overtakes her, the threat of the Police Chief a shadow over their future. As Mara comes of age, she becomes as impulsive as her mother, and it is in her forceful nature that she falls in love for the first time. The boy of her chosing a dangerous pick. Mara acts out in desperation to save her mother, and through terrible loss learns that what she thought she knew about her mother may all have been lies.
Mara escapes to America and works as a caregiver in Bel Air for Kathyrn, a woman dying of stomach cancer. Living as an immigrant who works for a wealthy woman is an eye-opening experience, considering her apartment is a shared one in the ‘not-so-nice part of Hollywood.” Ten years after first moving to America, Mara still finds herself surprised by her new country. The vast wealth, in comparison to Brazil, never fails to amaze her where even those who are poor, ‘look expensive’. There is a certain charm in all the little things Mara notices that we Americans take for granted.
It’s at heart both an immigrant experience and a tender, moving story about a mother who just wants to give her child a good life and prospects for a better future. It is how the country we inhabit shapes our destiny, for better or worse. Yes read it, and don’t pass over “I Had a 9 Percent Chance , Plus Hope” at the end. The world is heavier with the loss of Samuel Park.
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Simon & Schuster