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Book Review
 Samba Dreamers
By

Ivelisse Rodriguez

Samba Dreamers
By Kathleen De Azevedo
University of Arizona Press (2006)
 

Allusions to Samba, a photo on the book cover of someone playing a drum in a costume found at a carnival all belie what this book is about.  Kathleen de Azevedoís Samba Dreamers is a book about immigration, but not the rote tale of immigration weíve read 1,000 times. Samba Dreamers is the story of Rosea Socorro Katz and Joe Silva.  Rosea is the daughter of Carmen Socorro, a Brazilian immigrant who becomes a star in Hollywood wearing hats comprised of fruits ŗ la Carmen Miranda. Rosea is described as a wild woman Amazon, who strains against the false depictions of her motherís life.  She wants the world to know her motherís hurt and how she was used up and discarded by Hollywood.  Joe arrives in Los Angeles in the late 1970s from Brazil to escape his past, including the torture and imprisonment he faced because his girlfriend Sonia was a radical, college student who railed against the government.

 

Rosea, newly released from prison for burning down her ex-husbandís house, walks an immigrantís path in that she ends up in the same housing as where Joe first landed when he reached L.A.  Although, having been raised in the U.S., she is the one who most yearns for Brazil and the one who sees Brazil as the idyllic and lost homeland.  Brazil becomes for Rosea a place where she can be the norm, where her passion is not too much, where she can escape into the Amazon and be with fierce women like her.  Joe, however, knows how your homeland can turn on you and betray you.  He tries to impress this on Rosea.  Ultimately, she ends up as the same job as Joe.  He works as a tour guide dressed like Ricky Ricardo replete with a Cuban accent for tourists.  Rosea ends up at a desk job.   As a parolee, she attempts to put her life together, but she is too ensnared in the false representations of her mother, her rage, and then her love for Joe.

 

Joe steadily moves upwards on the immigrant ladder.  He starts off as a dishwasher, then marries a blond, blue-eyed woman, Sherri, who works at a waitress.  When she becomes pregnant with twins, Jeffy and Keffy, Joe decides he can only provide for his wife and kids by finding another job, which brings him to the tour guide company.  Throughout the novel, he wants to work his way back to himself--he wants to live.  And the only way he can do that is to heal himself from his tortured past.  Sherri though proves to be cold and not a person that Joe can reveal himself and his past too.  Joe very much wants to retain the illusion of his home life, but Rosea becomes for him a reminder of homeóbut a reminder that heals.  And that proves more alluring, than some aspects of the American dream. 

 

An ever-present theme throughout the novel is of what imprisons us.  Is a country imprisoned by the image outsiders and natives have of it?  Are we trapped by false images of ourselves?  Are we trapped in desire that relationships donít yield?  These are some of the issues Rosea and Joe contend with, and they both find liberation in unexpected and different ways.

 

Itís hard to believe this is the authorís first novel.  The author accomplishes so much here.  She creates these two very human characters that we would gladly follow from here to Brazil.  This is really a wonderful novel that gets to the heart of the two things people love the mostótheir country and each other.  Neither love is free of complication.  And each can break your heart.


Ivelisse Rodriguez is a Professor of English at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.