Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Review ~ The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos

Margaret Mascarenhas weaves a tale of Venezuela's revolutionary history through the personal memories of her vivid and unforgettable characters in this beautifully written novel The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos.

Lily Quintanilla is soon to give birth to her first child but due to a fall she is confined to her bed. Surrounded by her family Lily envisions her long lost friend Irene Dos Santos. Irene Dos Santos, Lily's best friend--and entirely less "saintly" than her name "Two Saints" alludes--disappeared mysteriously 15 years previous while on a trip with Lily's family deep in the rain forests of their home Venezuela. The memories awakened by Lily's vision commence a vigil of personal storytelling. Each family member in turn offers tales to Lily's unborn baby, tales of revolution, love, and personal joys, conflicts, and hardships. The truth of Irene Dos Santos' disappearance unfolds and the reader is forced to grapple with questions of reality! What is real? Are our inner imaginings reality?
"These days, says Lucrecia, you have to take care to differentiate between dreams born of your subconscious that lead to awareness, and fantasies handed to you on a platter that lull you into a stupor. You have to be on your toes when it comes to discerning what is real." (Mascarenhas 2009: 346)

Are the characters Mascarenhas created fabrications of Irene's subconscious, fabricated personalities created by a mind stricken by mental illness? I was swept away by the tide of Venezuela's rich revolutionary and religious history.

This novel is beautifully written, the imagery bring the exotic Venezuela to life for those who have not experienced it! Mascarenhas' use of Spanish phrases adds pure authenticity to this sweeping drama. Fraught with metaphor and symbol this novel reveals the turmoil of a country divided. In 2004 the statue of the much venerated Indian Princess/goddess Maria Lionza mysteriously cracked in half her torso fallen backwards she looked to the sky. It is this awed and mysterious event which inspired Mascarenhas and acts as a symbol of the divisiveness within Venezuela and of its history!
Rich in deeply developed characterization, this was a book which took my breath away and drew me into a world which was exciting in its sensual and exotic flavour. Mascarenhas is a vastly talented writer and has an instinct for revealing the inner souls of her characters!
Marcarenhas is an American citizen of Goan heritage who has lived in Venezuela and is currently living in Goa, India. The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos was published in June by Grand Central Publishing part of the Hachette Book Group.


  1. I love that you're doing book reviews now too. This is another one that sounds great. Thanks!

  2. Wow! Sounds good. I will have to ask the library to bring it in.

  3. I'll have to add this one to my list - I love "travelling" this way, especially since actually being there myself isn't a possibility at the moment!