Saturday, 27 October 2018

In Your Hands by Ines Pedrosa

In Your Hands by Ines Pedrosa
First published in Portuguese as Nas Tuas Maos in Portugal by Dom Quixote in 1997. English language translation by Andrea Rosenberg published by AmazonCrossing on the 16th October 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Swimming and WorldReads: Portugal

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An internationally acclaimed, award-winning novel spanning three generations of women united in their struggle for independence and fulfillment against oppression.

Told from three different perspectives, this sweeping saga begins in 1935 Portugal, in the grip of Salazar’s authoritarian regime, where upper-class Jenny enters into an uncommon marriage with the beguiling António. Keeping up appearances, they host salons for the political and cultural elite. In private, Jenny, António, and his lover, Pedro, share a guarded triangle, build a profound relationship, and together raise a daughter born under the auspices of rebellion.

Thirty years later, their daughter, Camila, a photojournalist who has captured the revolutionary fervor and tragic loss of her family—and country—reminisces about a long-lost love in Southeast Africa. This memory shapes the future of her daughter, Natália, a successful architect, who begins an impassioned quest of her own. As she navigates Portugal’s complex past, Natália will discover herself in the two women whose mysteries and intimate intrigues have come to define her.

Through revealing journals, snapshots of a turbulent era, and private letters, the lives of three generations of women unfold, embracing all that has separated them and all that binds them—their strength, their secrets, and their search for love through the currents of change.

In Your Hands is the history of a Portuguese family through the second half of the twentieth century narrated in turn by three generations of women: Jenny, her adopted daughter Camila, and Camila's daughter Natalia. Through their words we see how Portuguese society an attitudes change from wartime to Salazar's dictatorship to consumerist freedom. It's an ambitious work yet I didn't feel overwhelmed with History because the relationships between the family members and their friends are always centre stage.

By far my favourite section was the first third where Jenny speaks to us of her unusual domestic life with her husband, Antonio, and his long-term male partner, Pedro. The trio hosts evening salons for creative and artistic friends and I got a strong sense of their vivacious life which, despite setbacks obviously, seemed to be generally happy and satisfying. I could imagine the Lisbon of this period quite well especially after having read Estoril and I liked pragmatic Jenny as a person. Camila was more difficult for me to empathise with as she is quite a closed character. Her narrative centres more on the 1970s which is an era I didn't know much about in Portugal so I was interested to learn more. Glimpses of the war in Mozambique and its independence from Portugal are tantalising and I felt I wanted to read more about Camila's time in Africa. Natalia speaks from the 1990s and this final section is a series of letters ostensibly written to Jenny. Natalia uses dense language which often left me quite baffled and unsure as to what Pedrosa was trying to impart through this character. I didn't get such as strong sense of the woman as I did with Jenny and Camila either.

So unfortunately I found my interest in In Your Hands trailing away the longer I read. Had the novel started with Natalia in fact this probably would have been a DNF for me. However I so enjoyed Jenny's narration that I kept hoping that liveliness would reassert itself so I kept on reading. (Spoiler: it doesn't!) In Your Hands isn't an especially long book, but it did drag considerably by the end which was a shame. I am sure other readers will feel differently about each of the women so I'd be interested to hear different perspectives, however I felt that more from Jenny and then closure at the end of Camila's third would have been preferable.

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  1. Jenny does sound like a really interesting character. It is always hard when you like (or dislike) one of the main narratives in a book. Sorry this one didn't work out as well as it started.

    1. At least it started well so I had two enjoyable sections before it lost me!

  2. This book sounds really interesting. The history portrayed trough out the book is captivating.

    1. I haven't found many Portuguese-set books so appreciated learning more about the country in this era

  3. Sorry to hear you didn't like it more.