Unlike anger, which writers can call to readers mind by making us think about the physical symptoms—pounding heart, clenched muscles, etc.—we’ve all felt, love is harder to evoke. Not all of us have felt the all-encompassing, possibly life-ruining love that the three protagonists have in Inês Pedrosa’ In Your Hands (translated by Andrea Rosenberg). The protagonists do their best to explain their feelings, from familial love to friendship to companionship to erotic passion. Some of the types of love shown here baffled me; this novel has permutations that I’ve never seen before in fiction. But by the end, even without being able to call on common experiences or symptoms of love, I think In Your Hands is successful in its explorations.
The novel opens with Jenny remembering her wedding day in 1935, when she married the great love of her life, António. On the very next page, we learn with a shock that the great love of António’s life is Pedro. Though she was upset, Jenny decided that being close to António and sharing a part of his life was enough. There were several chapters when my ire rose on Jenny’s behalf. António is no prize. He gambles. He’s jealous of Pedro. He’s temperamental. But by the end of her section, I lost my pity for Jenny. She chose her life and never changed her mind.
Part of what helped Jenny was that she had a child to care for. Camila is not Jenny’s biological child, but Jenny raised her up after the girl’s mother was deported and murdered by Nazis. While Jenny’s section is very much of the old world, Camila comes of age after World War II. She has options her adopted mother didn’t have. But when love comes for her, Camila is smitten hard and her life is disrupted just as much as Jenny’s was. The last part of the novel is narrated by Camila’s daughter, Natália, who saw how much love derailed her mother and grandmother’s lives and turned away from her great love to marry a safe man. But, by playing it safe, Natália’s life grows hollow. Her life makes us wonder if an all-consuming love is worth the price of pain and loss that her forbearers felt.
Andrea Rosenberg’s translation is wonderful throughout; she ably translates the slippery language about emotion and preserves the distinct voices of each of the narrators. Overall, In Your Hands is one of the strangest love stories I’ve ever read. It’s definitely not about falling in love. It’s narrated by women looking back on their lives. One has no regrets. One is sad but has made peace with her past. The last has to decide if she wants to take the plunge again. I wasn’t sure about it when I started reading it, but In Your Hands rewards the persistent.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 16 October 2018.