Flesh and Bone and Water

A Novel

About The Book

From an exciting new voice in literary fiction, a seductive, dazzling, atmospheric story of family, class, and deception set against the mesmerizing backdrops of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon River, and London.

André is a listless Brazilian teenager and the son of a successful plastic surgeon who lives a life of wealth and privilege, shuttling between the hot sands of Ipanema beach and his family’s luxurious penthouse apartment. In 1985, when he is just sixteen, André’s mother is killed in a car accident. Clouded with grief, André, his younger brother Thiago, and his father travel with their domestic help to Belem, a jungle city on the mouth of the Amazon, where the intense heat of the rainforest only serves to heighten their volatile emotions. After they arrive back in Rio, André’s father loses himself in his work, while André spends his evenings in the family apartment with Luana, the beautiful daughter of the family’s maid.

Three decades later, and now a successful surgeon himself, André is a middle-aged father, living in London, and recently separated from his British wife. He drinks too much wine and is plagued by recurring dreams. One day he receives an unexpected letter from Luana, which begins to reveal the other side of their story, a story André has long repressed.

In deeply affecting prose, debut novelist Luiza Sauma transports readers to a dramatic place where natural wonder and human desire collide. Cutting across race and class, time and place, from London to Rio to the dense humidity of the Amazon, Flesh and Bone and Water straddles two worlds with haunting meditations on race, sex, and power in a deftly plotted coming-of-age story about the nature of identity, the vicissitudes of memory, and how both can bend to protect us from the truth.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Flesh and Bone and Water includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. We hope that these questions will enrich your reading group’s conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

André is a listless Brazilian teenager and the son of a successful plastic surgeon who lives a life of wealth and privilege, shuttling between the hot sands of Ipanema beach and his family’s luxurious penthouse apartment in Rio. In 1985, when he is just sixteen, André’s mother is killed in a car accident. Clouded with grief, André, his younger brother, Thiago, and his father travel with their domestic help to Belém, a city at the mouth of the Amazon, where the intense heat of the rain forest only serves to heighten their volatile emotions. After they arrive back in Rio, André’s father loses himself in his work, while André spends his evenings in the apartment with Luana, the beautiful daughter of the family’s maid.

Three decades later, André is a successful doctor and a middle-aged father, living in London and recently separated from his British wife. He drinks too much wine and is plagued by recurring dreams. One day, he receives an unexpected letter from Luana, which begins to reveal the other side of their story, a story André has long repressed.

In deeply affecting prose, debut novelist Luiza Sauma transports us to a dramatic place where natural wonder and human desire collide. Cutting across race and class, time and place, from London to Rio to the dense humidity of the Amazon, Flesh and Bone and Water straddles two worlds with haunting meditations on race, sex, and power in a deftly plotted coming-of-age story about the nature of identity, the vicissitudes of memory, and how both can bend to protect us from the truth.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. On page 2, in the opening scene, André says, “The past has a certain scent, don’t you think? To me, it smells like Brazil.” In what ways are memories accessed through the senses in this novel? How does this inform the novel’s aesthetic?

2. We find André middle-aged and living alone in London at the beginning of the novel. How does this frame magnify the action set in Rio? How are the two spheres in dialogue?

3. Consider the ways in which André, Thiago, and Papai are shaped by grief. How does Mamãe’s death impact each character? What does the novel have to say about the mourning process?

4. On page 47, André notes, “I had struggled with the speedy grayness of London, the drab food and the language, slowly translating myself into someone who could belong.” How does this declaration capture the effect of geographic dislocation? Why is “translating” an apt word?

5. Sauma captures the full arc of André and Esther’s marriage, their romance and loss of love, in just a few pages. Do you think this compression was intentional? What effect does it have when juxtaposed with the story of André and Luana?

6. Why do you think the family escapes to Marajó after Mamãe’s death? Does the natural wonder of the Amazon serve as a motif? In what ways does this milieu reflect the distorted senses of a person in mourning?

7. Consider Papai’s abortion clinic. How does it reflect the capacity of secrets to both wound and heal? How does this theme play out in the novel?

8. Rita and Luana are both a part of the Cabral family and separate from it. In what scenes are invisible class boundaries trespassed?

9. What role does Thiago play in the novel? Does his character carry allegorical weight?

10. Did you see the novel’s dramatic twist coming? Did it feel earned? How did it fit thematically with the narrative?

11. In her email message to André, Luana writes on page 214, “I’m glad that you’re sorry, André, but I can’t forgive you.” What do you think Luana’s motives were for reaching out to André years later? What is André’s greatest sin? How did he wield his privilege in an unforgiveable way?

12. Were you satisfied with the novel’s ending? How is the empty Coke bottle an apt concluding image?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Pair Flesh and Bone and Water with a Pedro Almodóvar movie, such as Volver. How do Sauma and Almodóvar utilize the tropes of melodrama to offer commentary on sexual freedom?

2. Sauma was born in Rio but grew up in London. How do you think cultural duality shapes an artist?

3. Consider the works of Monica Ali, Kiran Desai, and Lisa See. What do the novels by these authors tell us about the immigrant experience? How does the past both haunt and inspire in these works?

About The Author

Photograph by Tim Goalen

Luiza Sauma was born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in London. After studying English at the University of Leeds, she worked at the Independent on Sunday for several years. She has an MA in Creative & Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she was awarded the Pat Kavanagh Award in 2014. She has also been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Flesh and Bone and Water is her first novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (June 2017)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501158049

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Raves and Reviews

"Luiza Sauma's debut novel is that rare thing:  a completely absorbing, brilliantly-designed, literary work. Her ability to cut across time and continents and to inhabit the physical and inner life of both a young Brazilian and that same man in middle-age is as dazzling as the novel's plot.  The reveal, when it comes, is astonishing—sensuous, shocking, and completely earned."—Anita Shreve, New York Times bestselling author of The Pilot’s Wife and Stella Bain

"I devoured this stunning debut by Luiza Sauma. An immersive, heartbreaking coming of age story. Beg, borrow or steal a copy."--Susie Steiner, author of Missing, Presumed

“Luiza Sauma's first novel, Flesh and Bone and Water, is lush and evocative.  The secret at the center came as a shocking surprise, and the characters were as haunted as I was.  Sip a caipirinha and enjoy.”—Lisa See

"[Sauma's] writing is beautiful. I am sure I'll see her name on the spine of many a novel to come.--Rachel Seiffert, author of the Man Booker-shortlisted The Dark Room

"Sauma's writing is sensual and evocative. Flesh and Bone and Water is a powerful depiction of sexual attraction and long lost loves; a haunting weave of Rio, the Amazon and present-day London."--Ardashir Vakil, award-winning author of Beach Boy
 

“An arresting debut about memory and trauma…resembles Julian Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker winner The Sense of an Ending.”--The Daily Telegraph

"A remarkable debut from Brazilian emigrée Luiza Sauma... a wonderful evocation of a privileged Ipanema beach childhood, a searing critique of a deeply divided society and – with its intoxicating combination of tropical heat and overpowering passions – the perfect beach read." – Mariella Frostrup, RadioTimes

"[In Sauma's] mysterious debut...Brazil is marvellously conjured: full of hot, smoky sunrises and manioc pancakes, chilled coconut milk and the salty violence of Ipanema.”-- The New Yorker

"Teenage love is well documented, but Sauma finds some interesting things to say about it in her debut novel... Sauma convincingly evokes the cacophony of Rio. Moving... it offers an indelible glimpses into Brazil's stratified society." --The Sunday Times 

"Sauma's work is engaging, her descriptions of Rio evocative...attuned to the complexities of class and station."--Kirkus Reviews

"A confident debut...Sauma's excellent prose is thoroughly consuming, bouncing between continents and eras to create a complicated tale of class, ancestry, and love in which happy endings are difficult to find but hope remains."-- Publishers Weekly

"[A] quiet, inwardly focused, fast-moving, and well-plotted debut...Brazilian-born Sauma depicts her and her protagonist's vast, beguiling homeland with sweltering realism."-- Booklist

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