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Book review of Ways to Disappear

Ways to Disappear is a novel about an allusive Brazilian novelist, Beatriz Yogoda. Yogoda has a serious gambling habit, and as we discover has borrowed a large sum of money from a loan shark, Flamenguinho.

While Beatriz is in hiding, it is up to her daughter Raquel and son Marcus to try and track her down and pay off her debts. Into the mix arrives Emma, Beatrizes’ American translator, and together they search for Beatriz, scouring her novels for clues as to her whereabouts.

Novey’s title represents more than the physical disappearance of Beatriz, Ways to Disappear is also a metaphor for exploring identity. As a translator, Novey is sensitive to interpretations and just like interpreting a text, identities are open to individual readings. In this respect, the novel is full of misunderstandings. For example, there’s more to Emma’s flight to Rio than an altruistic effort to help search for Beatriz: it is also an engineered disappearance from her controlling fiancée, Miles.

As soon as Emma is on the plane, she feels she sheds her Pittsburgh identity “like a skin”. Once in Brazil, she becomes an Emma whom Miles doesn't recognise or want to acknowledge.

However, Emma is not without fault. She believes she intimately knows Beatriz through her novels. This idea is ridiculed by Raquel who claims: “She had no patience for the illusion that you could know someone because you knew her novels. What about knowing what a writer had never written down — wasn’t that the real knowledge of who she was?” Raquel nails it: identities are in someways “illusions” that leave the characters to question whether they really know each other, let alone themselves.

The book is tightly written and with some wonderful farcical scenes, including a post-coital interruption. However, away from the smell of coconuts and the cool of the palms trees, Novey explores the darker side of Brazil: the criminal underworld. The kidnapping of Marcus, the cutting off of his ear, the sheer brutality of this real world away from the literary world of Emma and Beatriz balances out the frothiness of the humour and gives the novel grit.

Review by Rachel Boser

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