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3.8 22
by Frances de Pontes Peebles

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As seamstresses, the young sisters Emília and Luzia dos Santos know how to cut, how to mend, and how to conceal. These are useful skills in the lawless backcountry of Brazil, where ruthless land barons called "colonels" feud with bands of outlaw cangaceiros, trapping innocent residents in the cross fire.

Emília, whose knowledge of the world comes from


As seamstresses, the young sisters Emília and Luzia dos Santos know how to cut, how to mend, and how to conceal. These are useful skills in the lawless backcountry of Brazil, where ruthless land barons called "colonels" feud with bands of outlaw cangaceiros, trapping innocent residents in the cross fire.

Emília, whose knowledge of the world comes from fashion magazines and romance novels, dreams of falling in love with a gentleman and escaping to a big city.

Luzia also longs to escape their little town, where residents view her with suspicion and pity. Scarred by a childhood accident that left her with a deformed arm, the quick-tempered Luzia finds her escape in sewing and in secret prayers to the saints she believes once saved her life.

But when Luzia is abducted by a group of cangaceiros led by the infamous Hawk, the sisters' quiet lives diverge in ways they never imagined. Emília stumbles into marriage with Degas Coelho, the son of a doctor whose wealth is rivaled only by his political power.

She moves to the sprawling seaside city of Recife, where the glamour of her new life is soon overshadowed by heartache and loneliness. Luzia, forced to trek through scrubland and endure a nomadic existence, proves her determination to survive and begins to see the cangaceiros as comrades, not criminals.

In Recife, Emília must hide any connection to her increasingly notorious sister. As she learns to navigate the treacherous waters of Brazilian high society, Emília sees the country split apart after a bitter presidential election. Political feuds extend to the countryside, where Luzia and the Hawk are forced to make unexpected alliances and endure betrayals that threaten to break the cangaceiros apart. But Luzia will overcome time and distance to entrust her sister with a great secret—one Emília vows to keep. And when Luzia's life is threatened, Emília will risk everything to save her.

An enthralling novel of love and courage, loyalty and adventure, that brings to life a faraway time and place, The Seamstress is impeccably drawn, rich in depth and vision, and heralds the arrival of a supremely talented new writer.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
“This impressive debut novel seduces with its sweeping story, strong characterization, and extraordinarily vivid detail. A good read-alike for fans of Isabel Allende.”
Publishers Weekly

This lavishly detailed if overlong debut novel set in 1920s and '30s Brazil follows two sisters who share excellent sewing skills, but take divergent paths into adulthood. Crippled by a childhood accident and mocked for her deformities, Luzia is considered unmarriageable. So after a bandit kidnaps her, she realizes that marrying the outlaw leader may be her only chance at independence and happiness. Beautiful Emília, yearning for the refinements of the big city, spurns her many rural suitors, but-reeling from her sister's abduction and her aunt's subsequent death-enters a disastrous marriage with a wealthy, suave stranger who has plenty of untoward secrets and a mother who treats Emília like dirt. The sisters' paths collide after Luzia, now mythologized as a vicious criminal known as the Seamstress, becomes targeted by Emília's criminologist father-in-law, unaware of the two women's connection. Though a good number of passages could have been left on the cutting-room floor, the leisurely pace and attention to detail immerse the reader in both gilded halls and unsavory bandit camps. (Aug.)

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Library Journal

This engrossing historical saga of Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s follows sisters Emília and Luzia dos Santos from their impoverished childhoods as village seamstresses to their unimaginable futures: Emília marries the scion of an upper-class family in Recife, while Luzia marries The Hawk, an infamous bandit-cum-Robin Hood who terrorizes provincial landowners. Using as backdrop the populist revolt of 1930 and the push to develop Brazil's enormous resources at the expense of the subsistence farmers, Peebles creates a vast and diverse cast of characters: Dr. Coehlo, Emília's father-in-law, who believes that the measure of a man's skull is a predictor of his behavior; The Hawk's men, all of them killers driven to crime by unjust landowners; Lindalba, a baroness's daughter who recognizes Emília's talent as a dress designer and helps her exploit it; and a mélange of scheming politicians, villagers, and society women. However, the novel's true beauty is the exquisitely realized relationship between Emília and Luzia, two strong women who, despite the separate paths their lives take, remain connected and committed to each other. Recommended for most public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/07, p. 64.]
—Andrea Kempf

Kirkus Reviews
Two sisters work both banks of the river and both sides of the law, united in their knowledge of stitchery, in this ponderous semi-epic, set in the steamy Brazilian jungle in the 1920s and '30s. This debut novel from Peebles, a native of Brazil, concerns Em'lia and Luzia dos Santos, virtuous sisters living in poverty on one of the vast, near-feudal estates of the swampy interior. Em'lia is sentimental and gushy, given to praying to Saint Anthony to one day send her a prince-and soon, for as the book opens she is "nineteen and already an old maid." Sister Luzia, meanwhile, has taken a nasty spill from a tall tree and been awarded cruel nicknames by the other kids for her troubles. Well, nothing will set a future revolutionary off like getting dissed by the local yokels, and so it goes: Luzia hooks up with the local peasant bandits-cum-revolutionaries, led by one Hawk, who "had become a cangaceiro when he killed the famous Colonel Bartolomeu of Serra Negra in his own study, bypassing the colonel's capangas and gutting him with his own letter opener." Bad way to go, that. Luzia, for her part, becomes a sure hand with most forms of contemporary weaponry, slaying one running dog of reaction after another ("The first cut's always the hardest. After that, it gets easier") while keeping her pinking shears within reach. And Em'lia-well, she's gone off and married the son of a big landowner, since to do otherwise would have thrown the whole twin-track story off balance. Neither sister feels complete without the other, and neither has the true love she deserves-or does she? Em'lia's a peach, but unappreciated; for all her deformities, Luzia has a certain Sonia Braga quality to her, but the Hawk isjust plain paranoid, the hubby a drip and the jungle just too murky, which means only one thing: Darling, we love you, but give us Park Avenue or a pine box. Peebles's novel is one of two about seamstresses being published in August (see the review of The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard by Erin McGraw, also in this issue). Slow-moving, long and meandering, like an Amazonian stream-with moments of beauty, but in need of a machete. Agent: Dorian Karchmar/Lowenstein-Yost

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

Frances de Pontes Peebles's short stories have appeared in Indiana Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, and the collection O. Henry Prize Stories, 2005. Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, she is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She divides her time between Brazil and Miami.

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Seamstress 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
HJW More than 1 year ago
The story was obviously inspired by the legendary cangaceiro bandits(robin hoods?) in the interior of Northeast Brazil in the '20 and '30s. It parallels the real lives of Lampiao and Maria Bonita. The book is a very human story of how real people lived and struggled. It also details the contrasts between the wealth of the ruling "coronels" in the interior, politicians of the city, and those suffering under the grinding poverty and constant droughts of the region. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Brazil's colorful history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book about Brazil in the 1920's with bandits. Difference between landowners and the other classes. Very well written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I could not put it down the author totally makes you want to be involved with the characters and their stories. I would totally recomend this book to friends!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved, loved, LOVED this book. The story pulled me in & wouldn't let go of me; even though it's a somewhat lengthy book, I wanted to keep on reading about these characters even after I had finished the book. Very compelling characterizations. I'm going to look for more from this author! I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves richly crafted literature.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Seamstress takes place in Brazil before, during and after WWII. It is a story of two young girls who were born in poverty in a small village. They are raised by an Aunt and learn the Aunt's skills to sew. The story branches out with how life's twists and turns affects the two sisters, one being "abducted" by a notorias outlaw group and the other landing into a marriage with a well to do family. Both siblings end up far from their home and mature into two very different types of women. The story is very well written and detailed about how life was in Brazil during this time frame. How the different classes of people lived, interacted or not, even covers the equality of women to vote, etc. during these times. Lots of historical information too keep the interest with me learning things about a place and time I never thought much about! I thoroughly enjoyed this book by a first time author and highly recommend it. It is a long read but it also covers several decades of the girls lives.
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profeJV More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books my husband and I have read together in ages! The characters are complex and unique;the Brazilian history and culture authentic and not widely known. The author has a superb command of the language and an eye for vivid and graphic detail. Once you get into the plot, it is hard to put the book down, and it never fails to satisfy in its originality and depth. We eagerly look forward to more books by this thoughtful and intelligent writer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 1928 in lawless Northeast Brazil sisters Luzia and Emilia Dos Santos are both talented seamstresses who each dream of a Prince Charming to take them away from the ¿war¿ between the affluent ¿colonels¿ and the outlaw cangaceiros. However, Luzia knows her chances of marrying a handsome wealthy hunk is zero ever since she was scarred and her arm deformed in a childhood accident. Emilia is a beauty with many men wanting her albeit all locals. Two events change the sibling dynamics. Infamous bandit Hawk kidnaps Luzia and their Aunt Sofia dies. Emilia marries wealthy influential Degas Coehlo but remains dissatisfied while Luzia survives her ordeal and soon becomes one of the outlaw cangaceiros. As Luzia becomes notoriously famous as THE SEAMSTRESS, Emilia hides their connection fearing her scornful mother-in-law will toss her back to her rural dirt roots but her father-in-law the criminologist is going after her sister. --- This is a fascinating historical tale of two sisters whose paths diverge yet converge. Interestingly in the lap of luxury, Emilia is unhappy while living dangerously off the land Emilia is contented. Although overly written with too many passive descriptions, fans will appreciate this deep look at life in Brazil in the late 1920s and early 1930s. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have had this book for about a month and I have yet to make it through the first chapter.