Author: John Updike
Publication Date: January 25, 1994
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library
Summary from Goodreads:
They meet by chance on Copacabana Beach: Tristao Raposo, a poor black teen from the Rio slums, surviving day to day on street smarts and the hustle, and Isabel Leme, an upper-class white girl, treated like a pampered slave by her absent though very powerful father. Convinced that fate brought them together, betrayed by families who threaten to tear them apart, Tristao and Isabel flee to the farthest reaches of Brazil's wild west -- unaware of the astonishing destiny that awaits them . . .
I've never read any Updike before, and honestly I always thought I'd start with the well-known Rabbit series. However, in an effort to squeak out just ONE more country for Shannon's Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, I picked up Brazil in an effort to break into South America before year's end.
Even though I knew almost nothing about this book before I borrowed it from the library, I'm glad that I chose this for my Brazil-based novel for the challenge. Isabel and Tristao's story is interesting, but as the title implies, Brazil itself plays an extremely important role as the setting for this novel. I actually learned quite a bit about the country's history and political climate, as well as the culture of three of its very different regions. Updike does a great job bringing Brazil to life. This is one of those novels that has a setting so rich in detail, it almost feels like it plays a protagonist's role right alongside the main characters.
As for Isabel and Tristao--first of all, I've never seen/read Tristan and Isolde, the opera on which this book is based. Part of me wonders how my experience may have been different if I had that background beforehand. But either way, I was drawn into their story pretty quickly. Tristao and Isabel have a romance that is not quite of this world...it seems to almost exist separately from their lives with their families, friends, and even their children. They place their love for each other above all other things, even in the most trying of times (and often to their detriment). By the end of the novel, their love takes on a fantastical quality, which I was a little leery of (I am not usually a "magical realism" fan), but Updike weaves those elements of the plot into the story so well, that they don't seem unbelievable or out of place.
Overall, this is a fairly quick read, but one that is worth a little more of your time as you soak in the story and its various meanings. Fair warning: this book is graphic, both in sexual and violent elements, so if that's not your thing, you may want to pick another novel to pass the time. But despite that, it's definitely given me an appreciation for Updike's writing, so hopefully I'll finally get to that Rabbit series sometime soon...