Family Heirlooms by Zulmira Ribeiro Tavares

My first read of Brazilian literature, read while the World Cup Football was playing out, though I admit to watching very few of the games, and none after my 11-year-old son left for a holiday with his Grandparents, no longer here to insist I stay up and watch the game with him. But Brazilian literature, why yes please!

Family HeirloomsFamily Heirlooms was written by Zulmira Ribeiro Tavares, translated by Daniel Hanh. Born in 1930 in Sao Paulo, she wrote both fiction and non-fiction and was the recipient of many literary awards including the highest honour, the Jabuti Prize for this novella, now available for the first time in English.

It is the story of Maria Bráulia Munhoz, a widow whose nephew Julião is acting as her secretary, though not entirely trusted by his Aunt and especially after the news he brings her in the opening pages about her family heirloom.

The family heirloom brings back the memory of her husband, the judge, who brought it to impress her and her family. It is symbolic of their relationship, an item of great beauty and admired by all, though deceptive, multi-faceted, rarely seen for what it truly is.

Pigeon blood ruby

Pigeon blood ruby

Regardless of the deception, Maria maintains her honour, dignity and the illusion of her marriage long after her husband has departed. She uses her naiveté as a tool for her own survival, for as long as she continues to live with the perception of normalcy, so it continues to reign in her life. Like the emperor in his new clothes, she wears her heirloom with pride.

Maria reminds me a little of the mother figure in Carmen LeForet’s Nada, attempting to retain her bourgeois respectability despite evidence to the contrary, though she never allows us to feel sorry for her, for she makes of her situation exactly what she wishes it to be and insists that everyone sees it her way too. She is indeed a survivor.

An enjoyable, thought-provoking read of illusion, deception, acceptance and survival.

12 thoughts on “Family Heirlooms by Zulmira Ribeiro Tavares

  1. Firstly am impressed that you got into the World Cup at all and then matched that with Brazilian lit!!!! In our house the dynamic was other way round – my 11yr old daughter forced to watch World Cup with me!!!!! Book sounds interesting – had first foray into Brazilian lit earlier in year when I read Clarice Lispector. Might make this my second!


    • Well, I could say no to watching TV and football in general, but very hard to turn down the puppy dog eyes and accompanying s’il tu plait Mama of an 11-year-old wanting company when it’s the first time I’ve seen him get excited about a sports match on television. I have to say the excitement was kind of infectious, only sadly it wasn’t sustainable without him.

      The book is interesting, not just for the story, but to see the kind of literature considered to be award winning, but I think i need to read more for sure to come to any conclusions. It is refreshing to read voices from afar however and interesting that it reminded me of the Spanish classic novel Nada.


  2. I’m lucky enough not to have watched any World Cup matches, although on holiday just over the border from Austria in Italy, an area much-frequented by Germans, I did hear loud joyous cheers from the bar when they qualified for the semi final. All over now! This sounds like a very different view of Brazil – thanks for the antidote, Claire.


    • I love the sound of cheering in the distance when some big match is on, the guessing game of who scored and whether it was a score or a nearly scored. I remember travelling in Saigon many years ago, walking along a street with friends after dinner when suddenly the streets became full of people on motorbikes beeping horns, waving flags and it took us a while to realise it was the end of a national football match and they were celebrating victory! It was a little alarming to begin with, being out of touch with a nations big sporting events can be dramatic!


  3. I’ve not read anything Brazilian either, but what I am beginning to become fascinated by is the popularity of the novella in both European and South American Literature. It’s a format that I’ve only infrequently explored and I’m beginning to think that I should give it more attention.


    • That’s true and well spotted Alex. Peirene Press only publish European novellas and certainly they are extremely popular here in France. I haven’t read enough South American literature to know, but I think the novella is an excellent form, Toni Morrison and Susan Hill are great proponents of the novella and certainly very well read.


  4. You missed some great matches, next time I will start a campaign to get you to at least watch the highlights of what will undoubtedly be the most historic thing since a caveman had an idea to slice some bread.

    This book sounds like it is a claustrophobic character read, like Jezabel or Inez which is by no means a bad thing if it is though.


  5. Hi Claire, I had to spend a day in bed yesterday (nothing serious) so your review came just in time. However, I have to say that I did not really like the novella. I don’t know whether it is due to the translation but I found it very difficult to understand what was going on. I wasn’t always sure which character was doing what. The poetic flights of fancy sometimes got in the way of the story. Also, the translation was uneven with changes in register.
    On the other hand, I’ve just read a fascinating novel called We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler who wrote the equally enjoyable Jane Austen Book Club, which prompted me to read all of Jane Austen’s books again at the time.
    I have all exhausted the entire series of Donna Leon’s Brunetti novels set in Venice, a must-read for anyone who goes there!


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