Review: Stubborn Archivist, by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

stubborn archivist yara rodrigues fowler

Rating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Literary Fiction, Contemporary

Goodreads

Stubborn Archivist is the story of an unnamed character, whose mother is from Brazil and father is an Englishman. Born in England but still with a foot in Brazil, she navigates life and tries to understand her identity and where she belongs.

This book came recommended to me by Rachel – thanks so much, this was such a great rec!

Stubborn Archivist reads like somewhere between literary fiction and contemporary, it’s both a quick and easy read and a difficult one. It’s quite clear to me that my review is very biased, since I saw myself and my experience in so much of this book – I’m from Brazil, live in Germany, speak English all day and my identity is a little here and a little there, too. Some of the conversations that are shown in this book have happened to me or with people I know, almost word by word.

The book reads like a bunch of thoughts, impressions and episodes of the lives of three women, one half-English half-Brazilian and the other two Brazilian women who lived in England at least at some point in their lives. It didn’t follow a particular plot, and while the main theme is identity, it also touches on several other topics that both enrich the story and leave us wanting more: consent, language, sacrifice, racism, Brazilian economics, history and politics. Since I have lots of context of Brazilian history for example, those flashes of it throughout the book held much more meaning I believe, than for someone who just came across it without any context. For example, when the author writes about Ana Paula and Isadora in the supermarket shopping quickly because the taxes raised the prices of food hourly, I don’t think the reader gets enough insight on how things were back then to really grasp the awfulness that was the economy in Brazil in the 90s. I wish the author had taken a bit more time to talk about those things.

Like Rachel said in her review, this book could’ve been more by going a bit deeper into some of the themes in the book, but as a Brazilian reading, it felt absolutely natural to read mentions of these cultural and historic references thrown in to the text. I found myself smiling, frowning, and nearly brought to tears through the story. So I think if you have more contact with Brazilian culture, you’ll find this book a lot more beautiful, otherwise it definitely feels like it’s kind of everywhere. To me, it felt like having finally, finally, seen myself in a book.

I do prefer literary fiction to have more of a plot & more flowery writing – but that is particular to my taste. If you’ve been dipping your toes into literary fiction and are terrified of reading something too flowery, too experimental, this is a good place to start!

I’m probably making this a mandatory read for people I know. It made a profound impression on me and I hope other expat Brazilians see themselves in this book, too.

6 thoughts on “Review: Stubborn Archivist, by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

  1. I’m so glad to hear this book touched you so deeply! I hope the Brazilians that you recommend it to have a similar experience ❤

    It's so interesting to hear your comments about the way Brazilian culture is portrayed; you're right, what I dismissed as underdeveloped was probably perfectly developed if you're reading it through a different cultural framework than my own (being a white American girl who has never been to Brazil). Such a good reminder that not being the target audience doesn't mean the book itself is flawed. But your comment about the Brazilian economy in the 90s really piques my interest and on a selfish level I wish the author had explored that a bit more explicitly for my own enlightenment!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I edited my review a bit because I see how it came off like “oh if you only STUDIED THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF BRAZIL YOU’D GET THIS BOOK OK”, but what I mean to say is that the book comes off differently depending on how much context you have. In the end, the book is published in English and will be read primarily by people without a deep knowledge of Brazilian history, culture etc, so with that in mind I would have liked to have seen more exploration of those themes, a bit more depth, a bit more explanation.

      I had similar issues when I started picking up books by Irish authors and they kept mentioning The Troubles and I was like wtf is that, and had to google what happened. So I think a little research comes naturally from reading a book set in a place you don’t know much about. But at the same time, typing “The Troubles Ireland” is much simpler than gathering from this book that you need to look up “hourly tax increase in the 90s Brazil economy” or so – it’s far less intuitive.

      I took a while to answer your comment because I really wanted to think about what I’d say – I really don’t think it’s an issue with readers with no context on Brazil, but rather that the author’s objective might not have been to write a book that would be an easy, understandable, relatable read to everyone (what do I know about the author’s intentions, though?). And I think your review is a great complement to reviews like mine – I can’t possibly review this book in a non-biased way and would hesitate in recommending it to non-Brazilians. So it’s nice that your review has a very different POV! Another reason why I wanted to link it here. For the majority of readers, your review is far more enlightening and an indicator if people should or not pick it up! 🙂

      Like

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