Friday, April 20, 2007

Town And Country

A FAR COUNTRY Daniel Mason

A quaint, old-fashioned word comes to mind while reading Daniel Mason’s second novel, and that word is “integrity”. Though it isn’t mentioned anywhere in the book, the country of the title is clearly Brazil, and, with his heart in the right place, Mason speaks to us of the age-old opposition between the city and the village.

It’s the story of Isabel, from a sugarcane cropping family that has, for ages, been a victim of the region’s cycle of droughts. Isabel’s musically-inclined brother Isaias leaves for the city (Rio de Janeiro) hoping for a better livelihood like many before him. When he vanishes, the preternaturally sensitive Isabel sets out in search, taking her chances among the impoverished in the city’s slums.

Though Mason’s writing is knowledgeable and descriptive, the narrative meanders and strikes the same note time and again, contrasting urban and rural ways of life with a clear bias towards the latter. It’s as though he started out with a premise and then peopled it with characters, rather than the other way around. Very well-intentioned, but also very lethargic.

Worth your while? Not as evocative and accomplished as Mason’s debut, The Piano Tuner, which you ought to pick up if you haven’t done so already.

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