Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Star Rating: 2 out of 5
Synopsis from Goodreads: Centenarian Eulalio Assumpcao has reached the end of his long life. From his modest bed in a Rio public hospital, as his mind falters, he grandly recounts his past to passing nurses, his visiting daughter and the whitewashed ceiling. His eccentric stories are seemingly nothing more than the ramblings of a dying man, yet as he overlaps each confused memory, they begin to coalesce into a brilliant and bitter eulogy for himself and for Brazil. Charting his own fall from aristocracy, Eulalio’s feverish monologue sprawls across the last century, from his empire-building ancestors to his drug-dealing great-great grandson. He confronts his senator father who squandered the family fortune on women and cocaine, and recalls the imperious mother who he always disappointed; but as he drifts through each shifting episode, he never stops searching for Matilde, the girl with cinnamon skin, who danced her way into his heart and then broke it when she disappeared.
One of the challenges I’m participating in this year is The StoryGraph’s Read the World challenge. I tend to read a lot of authors from America and the UK, so I wanted to push myself to expand my horizons and I really liked the parameters of this challenge: Read one book from each of 10 under-represented countries to include Brazil, Haiti, India, Russia, South Korea, New Zealand, Palestine, Turkey, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Additionally, the goal is to try to pick an author who is a native (or long-time resident) of the country and has a plot set in/focused on that country. Some of these are easier to find than others.
I chose Spilt Milk because the synopsis blurb sounded something akin to Isabel Allende’s writing, which I really enjoy. Sadly, it was not. The book is written with a kind of stream-of-consciousness flow of memories while Eulalio Assumpcao lies in a hospital bed at the end of his long, long life. He traces almost the entire history of the 20th century in Brazil through these reminiscences, but the stories were really confusing to me. They overlap, sometimes telling the same story in a different way, and assume you have a fair grasp of Brazilian history from the colonial period through the 20th century. (I do not.) I also think to label this book in the category of “romance” is pretty far-fetched. The love of his life leaves him soon after their daughter is born, and she was already having an affair, and to be honest, he is pretty crass in his descriptions of her, so I don’t think this fits my definition of “romance” – it’s more like a not-so-good obsession with her.
I did learn some tidbits of history and trivia hidden within the story itself. I didn’t realize how much influence the French had on Brazil, for example. This is a creatively presented story and I can appreciate the artistry it took to write it but it was a disappointed for me on so many levels. We’ll hope the next stop on the world tour is a better one.