Kate Lawrence is an ambitious young woman at the beginning of a promising literary career in New York. She has a supportive family, education, beauty, talent and an itch to live a life of adventure: “It was the rhythm of work I was after. I wanted to win awards for my poetry, become a famous acquiring editor, travel the world, take risks, keep my eye to the keyhole.”
Following a stint in the Peace Corps in Tunisia she has a love affair, despite her misgivings, with Sérgio, a Brazilian diplomat who overwhelms her with his high culture, charm and intelligence. In a fit of jealous rage Sérgio brings the affair to the bad end that her father and some of her friends had predicted. Kate arranges an assignment to write a travel article on Sérgio’s hometown, Rio de Janeiro, hoping to understand both his jealousy and her vulnerability to him.
In Rio Kate moves among hippies, artists, musicians and millionaires. She falls in love with the city as Brazil is descending into 15 years of repression by a military dictatorship that will imprison and torture hundreds of Brazilians. She also falls in love with John, a Canadian journalist who, impressed by her writing, hires her as a novice reporter for an international wire service. She covers the growing violent conflict between the military regime and its opponents. Everything she experiences becomes grist for her poems.
John has a clandestine past. As he cautiously reveals his secrets Kate surprises herself by reacting with envy as well as dismay. She is fulfilling her dream of living on the front lines and is drawn to the audacious life John has led, but she is not prepared for the terrible loss she will suffer as the price for her adventures.
The background political events of this story were formative for many of Brazil’s current leaders, including Brazil’s first woman president, Dilma Rousseff, elected in October 2010. Like the novel’s character Anabela, President Rousseff was arrested and tortured by the military government.
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