Review: In Your Hands – Inês Pedrosa

Old photographs

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A story of love and loss, and the ways that we try to protect ourselves, In Your Hands (AmazonCrossing, written by Inês Pedrosa, translated from Portuguese by Andrea Rosenberg) tells the stories of three generations of Portuguese women navigating their way through life in the 20th Century. Jenny, whose society wedding in 1935 opens the book, appears to live a picture-perfect life, but the diaries she writes for her adopted daughter, Camila, and Camila’s daughter, Natália, betray a loneliness and hurt that has been suppressed for years.

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In her diaries, Jenny speaks directly to António, her beloved husband, while also explaining that, on her wedding day, she learned her marriage was merely a sham, to cover the love affair between António and his life partner, Pedro. Conventionality again turns on its head when Jenny is presented with Camila, Pedro’s love child with a woman who has been deported and murdered by the Nazis. Coming of age in the post-war years, Camila then spreads her wings, falling in love with a freedom fighter in Mozambique, who gives her Natália, a daughter of her own.

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For all three women, their men are central, but absent, figures in their lives. Husbands, partners, fathers all loom large in the women’s narratives, but through emotional distance, death, disinterest or intentional self-preservation, have limited physical presence. In their own way, and more particularly their own time, each character is a feminist, defying societal expectations about who and what a woman should be. Jenny maintains an independence from her husband and freedom to do as she pleases – even if her choice to remain with António at times appears incomprehensible. Camila’s overtly political life pushes her into situations that many men would be afraid to face, and this demonstrates both her immense strength and the cause of her greatest pain. In the modern day, Natália’s life appears perhaps the most ordinary, but in turning away from her mother’s renegade path finds herself asking important questions about the quest to have it all.

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There is a parallel structure between the chapters written by Jenny, in diary form, and those of Natália, whose life is narrated in letters back to her grandmother. These two literary women bookend the chapters narrated by Camila, who is a photographer. Her story is therefore presented in snapshots: discrete events with clearly defined borders that leave the reader wondering about what the camera hasn’t captured. Given her place in the family, the history of which she appears to have known little in her childhood, Camila’s chosen artistic medium and disjointed narrative reflect a disconnect from the family that is also part of her identity. Through the passage of time, the reader is invited to explore the ways that each successive generation responds to, and is shaped by, those who came before.

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At times frustrating for the reader, both in terms of the characters themselves and the style of the narrative progression, In Your Hands is nevertheless a compelling read that blends together family secrets, broken relationships, and the indomitable search for love.

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Thanks to AmazonCrossing for providing an advance copy of In Your Hands for review. It is now publicly available for purchase.

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