All Is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber
Rating: 4.5 stars
Note: I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Devastating and beautiful. Reading this book felt like lifting a curtain on a chaotic family dynamic, pulled into the dazzling contact highs and dark, chaotic lows that drag you under. The lush, Brazilian setting perfectly mirrors the family’s story: the bright, colorful and lively energy followed by the dark seas of depression.
All Is Beauty Now tells the tale of the Maurer family, expats in 1960’s Brazil, as they deal with the aftermath of their eldest daughter’s disappearance and presumed drowning. Just before their move to Canada for cheaper healthcare for their bipolar father Hugo, Luiza takes the two youngest daughters to the beach and never comes back from a swim. After delaying their move for a year in hope of finding some closure on Luiza’s presumed death, Dora now struggles to get her family ready for the trip while coming to terms with how she failed her daughter.
While the Maurer family tries to keep up a respectable facade in public, they live in fear of Hugo’s condition. The very thing that made Dora fall in love with him, his exuberant highs, are followed deep lows. As both the highs grow and lows deepen, the plateaus between them shrink and Dora spends most days holding her breath until the other shoe drops. Trying to be there for the father she admires, Luiza became his nurse and helper while refusing to see his condition as an illness. She views it as an essential part of him. While Hugo has to live with the knowledge of what his condition does to his family, Dora has to come to terms with her failure to protect Luiza from the chaos it caused.
I loved how the author portrays the dangers of romanticizing mental illness. Too many books just tell Luiza’s side of the story,. She viewed Hugo’s manic episodes as someone being truly alive, more alive than the ordinary, thoughtless average Joe just following the crowd can ever hope to be. If you view it that way, it’s almost worth the depressive lows that incapacitate Hugo for weeks. Dora shows that it really is an illness that needs to be treated. He is not his illness, and he will still Hugo Maurer even if he undergoes treatment.
Luisa also infuriated me by how seriously she took everything, as if every decision was a matter of life or death. That must have been a side-affect of being forced to care for her father at such a young age. Everything probably did seem that serious and pressing, every decision life altering.
I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a compassionate description of a family’s struggles and secrets or the evocative descriptions of 1960’s Rio de Janeiro.