The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha (transl. Eric M. B. Becker): The Secret Diary of a Brazilian Housewife

Cover image A friend recommended this book to me and another lent me a copy. Hopes were high, then, if a little nervously so. There’s always the possibility of that awkward moment when you both realise that you’ll have to agree to disagree. C’s a proofreader which is how she first came by Martha Batalha’s novel. She’s also a bookseller and I suspect has been pressing this novel into as many hands as she can. From its exuberantly colourful jacket to its playful author’s note, The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao is an absolute treat. It spans twenty or so years in a Brazilian housewife’s life, beginning in the 1940s.

Euridice is a clever little girl. Everything she puts her hand to, she excels at. Her older sister Guida is the worldly one. Beautiful and flirtatious, she’s a skilled tutor in the art of catching a man. These two help out at their parents’ shop – Euridice when she’s done her homework, Guida when she has no choice. When Euridice is told her musical talent will take her to the conservatoire she and her parents become locked in a battle so intense that a mere exchange of glances is enough to reignite their anger. It’s her first act of rebellion but then Guida disappears leaving Euridice with a gaping hole in her heart and parents who pin all their hopes on her. She marries a respectable banker who fails to understand his wife’s brilliance, channelled first into cooking, then into sewing. When both these projects are firmly squashed along with her hopes, Euridice retreats quietly into herself again. One day, out of the blue, Guida knocks on Euridice’s door.

Euridice’s story is expertly told, liberally laced with a smart, playful humour sharp enough to flag the serious side of this tale of frustrated housewifery and self-sacrifice. Batalha peoples her novel with a vividly drawn cast of characters, each rounded out with their own backstory. Her women are strong, resourceful and capable; her men likely to become caught up in worries about the absence of blood on the wedding sheets. There’s a broad, deep vein of humanity running through this book: even the malicious Zélia, whose sole joy is spreading poisonous gossip through the neighbourhood, has a sad story of bitter disappointment which she keeps to herself. A salutary tale about the dangers of becoming a good girl entertainingly told, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable novel. I’d echo C’s recommendation loud and clear.

24 thoughts on “The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha (transl. Eric M. B. Becker): The Secret Diary of a Brazilian Housewife”

  1. Speaking of the dangers of becoming a good girl, I recently finished a reread of Carol Shields’ Unless. Quite a different story from this one, but perhaps some of the same wit and humour to balance out the serious themes beneath. It’s lucky you enjoyed this one so much, with more than one friend insisting it was worthwhile!

    1. That’s an interesting comparison I shall have to mentally thumb through my memories of Unless. Lucky, indeed. I think you can tell from my opening that it hasn’t always worked out that way…

  2. I identify with these two straight away having been brought up in my parents’ own shop. You can never get away from it. It completely dominates your life and the customers think that they not only have a right to know everything about your life, but to comment on it to your face as well! I shall definitely look out for a copy of this.

    1. Having worked in a bookshop for ten years, that would be my idea of hell as a grown up let alone as a child. Teenage years must have been very difficult with no real privacy. I hope you love Euridice as much as I did.

      1. I will never forget the day I came in from my first (disastrous) driving lesson. All,I wanted to do was go and throw myself down on my bed and weep but I had to go through the shop to get into the house and everyone in there thought they had the right to pick over my obvious failings behind the wheel. I could have committed murder that day!

  3. I know that feeling well – of being nervous about reading a book recommended by a friend. Luckily for me, it *usually* works out well.
    This one sounds wonderful, and I love the cover. I also like that it’s set in Brazil!

  4. There’s a genuine sense of pleasure that comes across in the way you write about this book that makes me sure it is a wonderful read. One to add to my list, thanks! Gorgeous review.

  5. This sounds like a delightful read. And what a perfect title. If I see a book like that at a store I would surely give it more than one glance. We all are nosey to peep into ‘secret diaries’. I like that you found all characters to be well fleshed out.

    1. That was a particularly enjoyable part of the novel, making the characters both vivid and memorable. It was done with a great deal of empathy, too. I hope you get a chance to read it, Resh.

  6. Intriguing – and reading the name Euridice, I immediately thought of Orpheus. And then came the musical connection! Is this relevant, or is the name a coincidence? Anyway, one for the tbr list!

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