CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 6. . . .October 10, 2014
Until the Day Arrives.
Ana Maria Machado. Translated by Jane Springer.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2014.
152 pp., hardcover & ePub, $16.95 (hc.), $14.95 (ePub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-455-8 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-457-2 (ePub).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Mary Thomas.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The guards came running down a side street. They were pushing people, grabbing their arms, dispensing blows. The shouting got louder. Amid the tumult, a bearded man -- tall, strong and well dressed -- spoke to the soldiers with vigorous gestures, as if he were giving orders. It was impossible to pick up a single word he said, there was so much noise in the square. But from his imposing manner, he could only be their boss.
Suddenly, the man saw Manu. The child stared at him boldly. Why? The man was furious. He strode toward Manu.
Everything was going according to plan. In a few moments Manu would be arrested and would find Bento.
All at once, the big man sprang up the steps to the house, two at a time, and grabbed the little body by the shoulders, pulling the child firmly to his side.
But then he did something unexpected.
The man wrapped Manu in his cloak and threw the weight of them both against the heavy wooden door of the mansion. With a creaking sound, it opened. Quickly, the man closed it again and secured the latch -- a solid iron clasp.
Manu was trapped all right, as planned, not in Bento's dungeon, but in a strange place, in the hands of an unknown, bad-tempered man.
No wonder his legs were trembling and his heart was beating so hard it seemed it would burst.
Bento and Manu are two young siblings in Portugal at the beginning of the seventeenth century. They have run away from their village after the plague killed their parents, and they have gone to Lisbon where they hope to make a better life for themselves. In order to survive, Manu pretends to be a boy. They do manage to survive, just, until one day Bento is arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the king's guards come to break up a riot. Manu's later attempt to get herself arrested as well fails when she is “rescued” by the captain of the guard, for no reason that we can determine, and taken to his house, fed -- and made to take a bath. After hearing Manu’s story, the captain's wife allows Manu to continue masquerading as a boy while she and her husband, touched by this tale of sisterly devotion, find out where Bento is and what his fate is to be.
The upshot is that when Bento is sentenced to deportation to Brazil, the captain arranges that Manu travel on the same ship, working her way as the ship's captain's personal servant. Thus the siblings arrive in Brazil together where the local priest gets Bento employment as carpenter, a trade he had begun to learn in his home village, and Manu, once her gender has been discovered, is sent to board in the village with several other girls and to attend a school set up for the local boys. This school includes a pottery kiln, a boon for Manu whose father had been a skilled potter, and who had begun learn from him. Both children, independently, befriend a couple of slaves recently captured in Africa, and the rest of the book deals with their attempts to reunite this black family and help them run away to join a free settlement of escaped slaves in the Brazilian interior.
There are several points of this narrative which strike me as highly implausible. Manu is a girl. In Portugal at the end of the Inquisition, this would define what she might be, what she would be allowed to do, and having a well-born citizen connive not only at a girl-child disguising herself as a boy, but then arranging for her to continue playing the part on a ship full of rough sailors for the month it would take to cross the Atlantic boggles the mind. When she is found out in Brazil, she is not instantly banished to being a kitchen maid, or even a house servant, but is sent to school. With boys! With native Indian boys! It gets more and more incredible.
Then there is the instant attraction that is felt between Manu and one of the Indian boys at the school, even before she has been revealed to be a girl. A similar attraction springs up between Bantu, who turns out to be not just a junior carpenter, but a wonderful wood carver as well, and the African girl. Both these alliances are essential to the plot of the novel, but I find them difficult to credit.
All in all, while it is an interesting period of history about which I knew/know very little, I found the storyline less gripping than it might have been and the characters unconvincing. I'm sorry. I would have liked to have liked it.
Recommended with reservations.
Mary Thomas lives in Winnipeg, MB, and still works in school libraries from time to time.
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