Brazilian-born novelist Adriana Lisboa’s latest novel, Crow Blue, depicts a precocious young woman’s quest for a place inside a splintered family.
Vanja is only 13 when her mother dies. That loss sparks her journey from Rio de Janeiro to Colorado, where she reconnects with her estranged stepfather, Fernando, an ex-guerrilla in his 50s who works as a security guard at a public library.
“It wasn’t an adventure,” Vanja says of her move to Fernando’s home in Denver’s sprawling suburbs. “It wasn’t a holiday or fun or a pastime or a change of scenery; I was going to the United States to stay with Fernando with a very specific objective in mind: to look for my father.” Fernando agrees to help Vanja search for her biological father—an American Vanja has never met, and whose whereabouts are unknown.
Fernando and Vanja create a patchwork family life as the teenager starts school, befriends a neighbor and is enchanted by the sight of her first snow. They track down old friends in search of clues about Vanja’s father. As Vanja begins to learn about her past, the story gains momentum; it’s no longer simply Vanja’s story, but her mother’s and Fernando’s, too. Even her absent father has a part.
This multi-layered narrative, deftly translated from Portuguese by Alison Entrekin, holds some surprising plot developments but comes to a beautiful conclusion. The novel is rich in poetic references, with a title that refers to a passage from in Marianne Moore’s “The Fish”:
through black jade.
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash-heaps. …
Vanja reads and rereads this poem, and comes to see how Moore’s “crow-blue mussel-shells” represent the unlikely connections across time and space between far-flung places and people: “the molluscs in the sea at Copacabana drowned out the world in their crow-blue shells. And crows flew over the city of Lakewood, Colorado. Shell-blue crows.”
In Crow Blue, Lisboa succeeds in writing an imaginative story that keeps its interconnected plotlines moving simultaneously. With lyrical prose and keen insight, Crow Blue shows how the search for a long-lost father can reveal the meaning of family itself.
This review originally appeared in High Country News.
By Adriana Lisboa; translated by Alison Entrekin
240 pages, $16