I have an ever-growing stack of brand-new unread books at home, yet I can’t help cruising the shelves at my local library every week. As I was perusing the new fiction section, a book caught my eye. We did the classic book-reader dance. The cover caught my eye. I picked it up and checked out the front and back. Then I cracked it open to read the jacket. It made the cut, so into my bag it went. It was one of those magical moments. No expectations, no recommendations; just a book that looked good that I felt like reading.
Flesh and Bone and Water is Luiza Sauma’s debut novel. The story follows Andre, the teenage son of a wealthy plastic surgeon in Brazil, during the 1980’s. The book alternates between Andre’s youth and present day, where he is a successful surgeon living in London. In present-day London, Andre receives mysterious letters from his family’s former live-in maid. The reader is transported back to Brazil where Andre’s family struggles to cope with the recent death of his mother. Andre is a teenager and oblivious to the disparities and inequalities between the social classes in Brazil at the time. He begins to have feelings for his family’s live-in maid’s daughter who has quit school to work for the family.
Sauma’s lyrical prose transports readers to the mystical headwaters of the Amazon River, the hazy, electric streets of Rio, and cold, damp London. The setting plays a huge roll in the development of the plot and is wrought with lush imagery. This impressive literary work has a well-developed main character and a tightly-wound plot.
I have had two experiences with Brazilian culture, without ever actually having travelled to Brazil. The first was in 2009 when I travelled to Paris by myself for a study abroad program. I went in December via a language institute in Paris that offered classes and made living arrangements for students. I was the only American program among a sea of Brazilians. Apart from a few Chinese students, almost all the students in the program were from Brazil. December is smack-dab in the middle of their summer holiday and Brazil still had relatively no middle class. You’re either rich or poor. And if you’re rich, apparently you went to Paris during summer break. I heard lots of Portuguese and went to more than one Brazilian restaurant while I was there.
Fast forward to 2012, my mom went to Brazil to learn more about shade-grown coffee. I’m fairly certain that she had only been outside of the country one other time since I was born. Of course, while she was on the other side of the country in Brazil, my grandmother passed away. Great timing mom.
Aside from those two events, I know next to nothing about Brazilian culture. I enjoyed this book because I felt as though I was in Brazil. The author did an amazing job of capturing quotidian life in Brazil. The heat, the smells, the sounds, the food. One thing the characters did a lot was drink copious amounts of mate. I always assumed that yerba mate was most popular in Argentina and maybe Columbia, but apparently it is also commonly consumed in south Brazil.
In the story, the mate was frequently in the refrigerator. A cool beverage to combat the hot, humid temperatures of Brazil. However, here in Minnesota I need no such thing. Inspired by the mate Andre drank in Bone and Flesh and Water, I made a mate latte; a south American drink perfect for the artic temperatures of Minnesota.
Yerba Mate can be brewed several ways. It is traditionally drunk out of a gourd with a bombilla. If you wish to go a more Westernized route, you can brew it in a coffee pot or purchase it in tea bags. I made my mate latte using the coffee pot and a blender to add the froth.
Yerba Mate Latte
- 2 tbsp yerba mate
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup milk of your choice
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
Brew 2 cups of yerba mate in a coffee pot as you would regular coffee.
Heat milk in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Add brewed mate, milk, and maple syrup in a blender. Make sure lid is secured and blend for 10-15 seconds until frothy.
Pour into a coffee cup and top with cinnamon.
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