Bilingual Review [EN/PT]: The House in Smyrna / A Chave de Casa by Tatiana Salem Levy

a chave de casa tatiana salem levy

(Keep scrolling down for the English review.)

[Português]

Nota: ★★★★☆

Categorias: Ficção Contemporânea

Passando por temas como a morte da mãe, a relação com um homem violento, viagem, raízes, herança e etc, A chave de casa é um livro pulsante, cheio de vida e emoção. A autora tece um romance de vozes diversas – como são as vozes da memória -, histórias que se complementam num tom de densa estranheza. Romance de estréia da jovem escritora Tatiana Salem Levy. 

Fiquei surpresa ao ver que este é o romance de estréia da autora – sua maestria na escrita de um romance com diversas narrativas fragmentadas me encantou completamente. Seu estilo me lembrou um pouco de Virginia Woolf e Clarice Lispector, com uma linha da história alternando entre pontos de vista, ano e país, fragmentadas, e obrigando o leitor a se esforçar para entender a narrativa não-linear. Eu pessoalmente gosto muito desse tipo de história (embora não tenha me dado bem com os romances de Clarice ainda), em que o leitor tem que se concentrar e se entregar à história, tentando desvendar vários pontos da narração ao mesmo tempo em que desconfia dela. No final o sentimento  que tive ao terminar o livro é de gratificação por ter uma imagem da personagem e como ela chegou a ser quem é, as coisas que ela passou, como ela pensa e se sente. Não é um livro fácil, mas é curto e, levando em conta que ele venceu o Prêmio São Paulo de Literatura, sinto-me confiante ao recomendá-lo.

Nem tudo o que é contado no livro acontece, há contradições (de propósito), e eu acho que isso torna A Chave de Casa ainda mais intrigante, mas certamente também confusa. Se você prefere uma história direta, linear e com narradores confiáveis, este livro não é para você. A personagem principal não tem nome, o que é um interessante aspecto numa história sobre identidade e é vaga sobre detalhes de sua vida, como trabalho e rotina. A impressão que tive é que o leitor pode interpretar o livro, e o final, de formas diferentes.

O tema de A Chave de Casa é identidade, heranças familiares (memórias, dores, cultura, língua) e violência, contados de forma visceral, dolorida e esperançosa. A personagem no início da história está lidando com a morte da mãe e uma doença misteriosa (talvez depressão). Quando ela recebe de seu avô a chave da casa na Turquia em que ele morou na juventude, ela começa a navegar sua identidade e redescobrir suas raízes, assim como relembrando um violento relacionamento de seu passado.

As partes sobre a vida da narradora são emocionantes e contadas de forma crua, de grande impacto. Já a história de sua família eu achei menos impactantes, apesar de serem sobre a mudança da Turquia para o Brasil, e mais tarde sobre o exílio de seus pais em Portugal durante a ditadura no Brasil. Como falei no início, mal acredito que este é o romance de estreia de Tatiana Salem Levy, pois é muito bem escrito, cheio de técnicas interessantes e de grande impacto emocional. Super recomendo para leitores que gostam de ler algo fora da zona de conforto! E recomendo também buscar as análises do livro depois de ler, porque são interessantíssimas.

[English]

Rating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Contemporary Fiction

An unforgettable story from one of Brazil’s most accomplished and original new voices, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a young woman finding her way back into life.

In Rio de Janeiro, a woman suffering from a mysterious illness, which is eroding her body and mind, decides to accept a challenge from her grandfather: to take the key to the house where he grew up―in the Turkish city of Smyrna―and open the door.

As she embarks on this pilgrimage, she begins to write of her progress. The writing soon becomes an exploration of her family’s legacy of displacement in Europe, told in several narrative strands. Sifting through family stories―her grandfather’s migration from Turkey to Brazil, her parents’ exile in Portugal under the Brazilian military dictatorship, her mother’s death, and her own love affair with a violent man―she traces her family’s history in a journey to make sense of the past and to understand her place in it.

I am quite glad to have picked this up – few books resonate with my personal experience as a Brazilian living abroad with family roots scattered all over the globe, and this book expressed very well some of that identity crisis people in my situation go through. Together with Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler, this has touched on a lot of topics that spoke to me and made me feel understood. Whether this makes this review too biased for me to objectively recommend this book to others is debatable, but it’s also noteworthy that this won the São Paulo Prize for Literature, so clearly some people agree it’s a really good one. But this is a different book from that one in several aspects, as I will explain below.

The writing is quite beautiful and fragmented, and I was very charmed by it. It demands that the reader surrenders to it and simultaneously, questions what is said. Not everything is true, and some things are up to the reader to decide if they happened or not. Its many, fragmented story lines worked very well for me and gave the story a haunting effect, as you go from one to the other with no announcement from one paragraph to the next, much like painful memories tend to do. Fragmented styles are a hit-or-miss for me: I loved it in Virginia Woolf’s books and was exhausted by Clarice Lispector’s, so it was a pleasant surprise that this worked well for my personal taste. It’s not a story that you read too easily, but I didn’t mind the extra work.

The main character dealing with grief after her mother’s death, flashbacks to an abusive relationship, flashbacks to her grandfather’s story as he left Turkey for Brazil and then her parents left the Brazilian dictatorship for Portugal and so on. All of these narratives are incredibly interesting, but the ones focused on the main character had the most emotional impact, leaving a gut-wrenching reaction to some of the things she describes and a feeling of loneliness, raw pain, but also hope.

I’ve seen that on Amazon the translation is not rated so brilliantly, mainly because people found it “confusing”, but really if you are able to follow Virginia Woolf’s books or Clarice Lispector’s prose, there you should be able to follow this story. I haven’t read the translation but I suspect many readers aren’t used to this kind of fragmented writing. I found it gratifying to immerse myself into the story and slowly start figuring out how it works and what is happening (or not happening – I think part of the brilliance of this book is that it deals with the character’s psychological state, wishes mixed with memories, so not everything that is told really happens). I do want to write a discussion post on this as I’ve seen analyses in Portuguese but not in English for it, but I know for a fact that it’ll be a very unpopular post, so I will take my time and not prioritize it for now.

I really enjoyed this, the author’s writing is both visceral and poetic and I look forward to picking up her other works!

5 thoughts on “Bilingual Review [EN/PT]: The House in Smyrna / A Chave de Casa by Tatiana Salem Levy

    • For me too! I really enjoy Woolf but not Clarice so much. I thought this was a happy medium, as you said. Challenging but not abstract. And thank you, it takes a while to write in both languages but it’s so worth it!

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