Once upon a time in Copacabana, a famed Brazilian author disappears up a tree, then disappears altogether. Thus begins this literary debut about author Beatriz Yagoda, her two grown children, and her devoted translator Emma Neufeld. In Pittsburgh, Emma receives a call from a supposed "friend" of Beatriz, informing her of the disappearance. With only her overly-devoted boyfriend and needy cats to consider, Emma feels pulled to help the beloved author who means so much to her. She immediately flies to Brazil to the author's apartment where she has been welcomed as a close friend, and finds the two siblings at a loss for what to do about their mother. A discovery on her computer and threats from men wanting money lead the three to surmise that Beatriz is again embroiled in financial ruin. Meanwhile, Beatriz sends mysterious missives to her former editor asking for funds to sustain her life on the run. When the threats against the family and their friends turn violent, Emma must bond with the author's daughter to uncover a secret from her past that led to this escapade.
At times atmospheric, witty, and disturbing, this finely-crafted first novel offers a quick but memorable read that is distinctly unusual. Author Idra Novey's prose is poetic and magical, capturing the feeling of the heat and passion of Brazil. If you're looking for a much darker, grown-up version of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, this might satisfy.
Reviewed by cs, 10/16. Other reviews by cs.