Book Review — Feast Days

Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie is a novel about a young upwardly mobile couple transferred to Sao Paulo, Brazil. MacKenzie’s first novel was City of Strangers and his fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard College, and has lived in New York City, Ethiopia, and Brazil.

I do not review much contemporary fiction because it seems to be written for instant entertainment without much depth or lasting memory. Feast Days is something different and, yes like many reviews have already said, it does deal with a young American couple in Brazil. He is an investment banker and she is trapped in a foreign country without much marketable skills or a visa that would allow her to work. The descriptions of Brazil are accurate. The division between the rich in their walled complexes and the poor in their shantytowns is very clear. Among the rich Brazilians, there is also a status competition. Emma, the American woman, works for friends teaching English. Having a tutor is a status symbol, even if one doesn’t really need one.

There is crime on the streets. There is corruption in business and government. There are protests and protests that turn into riots. Children of the rich are joining in the fight if not for the movement for the thrill. Haitian immigrants legal and illegal are protected by the parish priests and become the new outcasts giving the poor someone to target. A great deal is given to the division of the people and to the chaos of society outside walled complexes.

The most interesting thing I found and what kept me digging into the story is the narrator. The cover flap will tell the reader her name is Emma. You will only find her name once in the text. Her husband does not refer to her by name nor do her Brazilain friends. Perhaps she is just another American woman with no value except as a status symbol tutor or wife. Equally interesting is her husband. He is never referred to by name. When they were dating Emma refers to him as “the man who would become my husband.” She addresses and refers to him as “my husband” throughout the rest of the book. No one addresses him by name. Perhaps he too is just another Yankee in a foreign country. There for a while then replaced with another equally forgettable person. This makes the book far more interesting to me than I originally expected. It added depth to the story that made it much more than just a story.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Book Review — Feast Days

  1. This does sound like an interesting book, and I enjoyed your writeup on it. Do you mind if I republish it at http://www.blackcatastrophy.com with a link to your original?

    I was also really fascinated by you saying the Brazil descriptions are accurate. Is that where you’re from originally? Or have you been? I’ve never been, but never heard these things from the Brazilians I’ve met. Maybe they wanted to portray their country in a favourable light, when we spoke. They mostly spoke about an open and more friendly culture than we find in the states.

    I’m also intrigued by why the author doesn’t name the main characters very often, or at all. Maybe it is to devalue them, as another inept face in the crowd. I’m not sure, but that’s certainly an interesting tactic. When did you first notice you hadn’t seen a name?

    • Yes on the repost

      Plenty of graduate and undergraduate study concerning Latin and South America and I try and stay current.

      I realized he didnโ€™t have a name after she called him the man who would be my husband. Since she was the narrator it took longer to realize she did not have a name.

      • Thank you! Shadow keeps a steady backlog of posts, so I’m guessing you’ll be in for a March or April spot. You’ll get a tag on that post from the back link when it’s posted, and we try to remember to notify you in case you miss it. ๐Ÿ˜Š

        Sounds like you did a pretty interesting degree. Did you focus on any specific part of the culture, or the region etc.? My degree focused a lot on Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.

        I figured that was why you didn’t notice at first. I’ve had characters without names, but never a major character before. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that elsewhere either. Points to him for uniqueness!

      • Thank you.

        Masters degree is in International Relations Security Policy with quite a bit of focus on Latin America. The Marines took me to the Middle East and Africa in the mid-80s so I did see some travel too.

      • Sounds like you’ve had a pretty interesting career!

        I did my associates in liberal arts and the humanities, with a heavy focus on Caribbean studies since I did it there (I’m originally from Jamaica). Then I switched to business for four years. I got into an international relations programme too, but I turned it down after someone told me it’s almost impossible to get a job in that area unless your family worked in politics.

      • Scheduled for 0355 on May 5th. Sorry for the late reply. The link to the post got buried in email! Thanks again ๐Ÿ™‚

      • You’re welcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie – black CATastrophy

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