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A House Named Brazil

by Audrey Schulman

Nineteen-year-old Fran’s exploration of her life and her place in the world begins when her mother Gloria, who deserted her five years earlier, suddenly starts phoning every night at six o’clock. Audrey Schulman’s A House Named Brazil sprawls and rambles across the decades as Gloria weaves her daughter an oral family tree, the stories told and embellished with care.

The peculiar cast of relatives includes a great-great-grandmother who, without benefit of a husband, birthed 14 children; a gun-toting great-aunt married to a professional pickpocket; and an uncle who gave the Florida mafia a run for their money. In previous novels, Schulman has proven herself a wizard at conjuring up places, events, and feelings, but this talent is not demonstrated as strongly in A House Named Brazil. Gloria’s descriptions of her relations are lively, but their particular places and times are not so surely evoked. It is the beautifully written journey of Fran’s evolving relationship with her mother, and her own sense of self-realization, that drive the book.

As always, Schulman introduces enjoyable turns of phrase, as when she has Gloria describe her own mother’s reaction to her noisy brothers: “… her face filled with a silent frustration as if she were a visitor from France preparing to ask for directions.” A kind of Thousand and One Tales of Canadian (and American, and Brazilian, and European) Nights, A House Named Brazil is another of Schulman’s intriguing stories of a young woman’s voyage of self-discovery.