Thursday, 18 January 2018

Elza: The Girl by Sergio Rodrigues

Elza: The Girl by Sergio Rodrigues
First published as Elza: A Garota in Portuguese in Brazil by Editora Nova Fronteira in 2008. English language translation by Zoe Perry published by AmazonCrossing in 2014.

E for my 2018 Alphabet Soup Challenge
One of my WorldReads from Brazil

Where to buy this book:

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Xerxes, a ninety-something survivor of the extinct Brazilian Communist Party, hires an unemployed journalist to write his life story, and most importantly explain his 1935 tragic love affair with comrade Elza Fernandes, code-named The Girl. 

Elza’s tale is one of the most bizarre true stories in Brazilian history: as a beautiful sixteen year old, she was suspected of betraying the Party and, although the charge could not be proved, was sentenced to death by Luiz Carlos Prestes himself. Prestes, the most eminent Latin American communist leader in the romantic era prior to the Cuban revolution, had arrived undercover in Rio from Moscow with a mission of overthrowing the Vargas government.

A strikingly contemporary, post-utopian narrative, Elza: The Girl blends the pace of a thriller with the insightfulness and thorough research of a historical novel, introducing the reader to a world in which emotional, political, and even artistic truths must be reappraised in order to understand our shifting present.

I'll admit I bought Elza: The Girl on a whim. I had an Amazon gift card to spend, the ebook was only £1, and I needed a 5th Brazilian book to make up that country's WorldReads quintet! I was also intrigued by the range of review ratings and comments. This seemed to be a real Marmite book (love it or hate it) and I wanted to find out why. Personally, I liked it!

Elza: The Girl is an oddity by crime genre standards and I think a lot of the poor reviews are caused by inappropriate marketing on the part of the publisher, for the English language edition anyway. The cover art and font, the use of the words 'The Girl' in the title: I thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect, but this book is absolutely nothing like that bandwagon genre at all. Instead, it is partly fictionalised true crime, it's slowly paced, and much of the intrigue is due to 1930s political manoeuvring. If you like true crime reportage, you'll probably like this book. If you're hoping to read something like Gone Girl, you'll hate it!

Rodrigues is an investigative journalist by trade and half the chapters recount the information he uncovered in researching this iconic tale. Court records, newspapers and other publications, he really does seem to have left no stone unturned and I appreciated the thoroughness of his work. Elza's murder is one of those stories everyone (in Brazil at least) thinks they know, but I was amazed how much had been invented or at least warped to suit what important men wanted the public to believe. The murder victim herself is almost irrelevant!

I understand why Rodrigues has fictional characters woven around the factual tale. Large sections of the story can be inferred, but aren't proven so this device allows him to offer opinions and possibilities in an engaging way. I liked the interaction between Xerxes and Molina and the conclusion of their relationship was interesting although, I thought, unnecessarily over-complicated. I do now feel as though I have a much stronger understanding on 1930s political Brazil, how the communism against fascism struggle that swept the globe particularly affected this country, and that set up the Brazilian political landscape for the terrible years to follow.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sergio Rodrigues / Crime fiction / Books from Brazil


  1. Isn't it brilliant when you pick up a book on a whim and it turns out to be something you can really love? It's a shame that the marketing is done badly for this book and it doesn't fit the genre it's given :/ Which is a shame because it sounds like a well written and enjoyable novel outside of that!

    1. I think it's Amazon jumping on bandwagons in the hope of selling more books, but they shoot themselves in the foot because the readers who are attracted by that sort of cover aren't going to leave good reviews for this book :-/