I was drawn to read Idra Novey's debut novel, Ways to Disappear, for three reasons. Firstly, It was awarded the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize by the Jewish Book Council for best Jewish book of 2017. (I highly recommend subscribing to their newsletter.). Secondly she translated The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector, anyone that helps make her work more accessible has my great thanks. Finally it is set in Brazil, of which I have very fond memories.
The novel is a kidnapping crime mystery work. One of Brazil's most loved writers was last seen, in Rio, climbing up a tree. She is now missing. Her American translator decides to search for her. There is romance, hey it is Brazil, the ambience of the tropics, the corruption of Brazilian law enforcement, descriptions of Kilogramma, my favorite inexpensive Rio restaurant, and ever complicating mysteries. Kidnapping is an ever present risk for the wealthy and it looks like this is what may have happened.
The translator reflects on her craft. The missing writer is Jewish, as was Clarice Lispector, and we see aspects of traditional Jewish family practices. The setting is not just Rio de Janeiro but also Salvador and an off shore resort island.
Jewish migration to Brazil goes back to the start of Portuguese rule. In the early 20th century many Jewish families, as did that of Clarice Lispector, left Eastern Europe for Brazil, to escape vicious anti-Semitic pograms. Recife in Salvador was the most common initial destination.
Ways to Disappear is an exciting fast read, well worth your time. It drew extensive rave reviews in the literary press.
Idra Novey is the author of the debut novel Ways to Disappear, winner of the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize, the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Prize, and a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her poetry collections include Exit, Civilian, selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series, The Next Country, a finalist for the 2008 Foreword Book of the Year Award, and Clarice: The Visitor, a collaboration with the artist Erica Baum. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages and she’s written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, NPR’s All Things Considered, New York Magazine, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writers Magazine, the PEN Translation Fund, and the Poetry Foundation. She’s also translated the work of several prominent Brazilian writers, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H. She’s taught at Princeton University, Columbia, NYU, Fordham, the Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative. This fall she is the Visiting Distinguished Writer in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at LIU Brooklyn. From idranovey.com