Symphony in White
by Adriana Lisboa


Texas Tech University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-896-72671-0.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 07/05/2010

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Literary

Adriana Lisboa has written a lyrical, moving tale of two sisters growing up in rural Brazil and coming of age in Rio de Janeiro, masterfully translated by Sarah Green. In the beginning, one might feel that one is viewing the story through a light fog. What is real and what is just beyond our view? Symphony in White unfolds with alternating vignettes from the sisters' childhood, their teen years and their adulthood, each vignette filling in another element in a larger puzzle. The flow is languid, filled with symbols of multi-colored butterflies, a dangerous rock quarry, flowers, birds and a scarf with faded roses.

What appears to be a lovely rural childhood is steeped in life-changing secrets. The younger sister "...runs, alone and happy—the most authentic happiness, the kind that doesn't need to be recognized—among the cypress trees. Each cypress tree has a body and a face, each one has a soul, she has no doubt of that. That is why she asks their permission to take their green seeds. The sky is so weightless, looking at it reveals a precise notion of infinity. But infinity can die in a second."

Perhaps the sisters' lives reflect the political chaos going on in their country at the time. Childhood friends, parents, lovers, husbands and Clarice's daughter add their voices and entangled actions to make this a rich symphony, much greater than the title. Lisboa is a fine, elegant writer whose other works should be translated into English more rapidly than this one that was first published in Brazil in 2001.


Adriana Lisboa, born in Rio de Janeiro holds degrees in music and literature. She has written 9 books including 4 novels. She was awarded the Jose Saramago Prize in 2003 for Sinfonia em Branco. She divides her time between Rio and Colorado. Visit her website.

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