Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Alice's Review: Almost Gone

Summary: Brian Sousa leaves sentiment and saudade behind in Almost Gone, a linked collection spanning four generations of a Portuguese immigrant family. In this hardscrabble world, the youth struggle with the secrets left behind by their elders, as their parents fought through the pain and joy of assimilation. Told through various perspectives, Almost Gone is a working-class tale of survival that finds no easy answers, but cuts straight to the bone.

Review:  I jumped at the opportunity to read this novel.  This is the first time I am reading anything by a fellow Portuguese American and I looked forward to reading a work of fiction by someone who shares my heritage.  I was optimistic especially since this novel promised to encompass the feeling of being an immigrant, of living in two very different worlds.

Because of my optimism, it pains me to say this.  Honestly, I’m on the fence about this novel.  I really liked Mr. Sousa’s writing style.  He is gifted and I know he will have a successful career.  He made me believe I was on a journey though the beaches of Lagos and Brasil. He wrote interesting characters, kept them real and unassuming.   I was there with Scott and Hailey as they dealt with their grief.  I felt Helena’s certainty that a black dog was ruining her husband’s garden.  I understood their pain.  It was beautiful, real.

My concern with Almost Gone is the formatting of the novel.  It reads like a collection of short stories however these stories have characters that are intertwine and skip back and forth though time.  Sadly, the transitions weren’t smooth.  It was well written but too scattered.  Although this was an interesting way to tell the story, it would have benefited from some focus.  Perhaps it would have helped if it was told in chronological order.  The problem was I couldn’t see the point to it all.   There were no resolutions, and too many holes.  More than once, I expected something else and was a disappointed.

What I did enjoy were the characters.  I really liked Scott.  I wish I knew more about him.  I worry about him and how his life changed.  I also loved Scott’s grandmother Helena.  Her story game me chills.  And Paulo’s wife Claire.   Let’s face it, I really liked each character and what they had to give.  I wish they could have given more.  This novel left me with a sense of bitterness.  As I was reading Almost Gone, I came to realize that each character was bitter.  That bitterness they felt didn’t come from what each character didn’t have or what they were denied, it comes from knowing they had the opportunity to do something different and they chose not to.  Man, I love stuff like that. 

On a personal note, I thought this novel would be more in line with my story as a Portuguese American and it was far from it.  Maybe my family is the exception to rule.  I could understand where the characters where coming from but it wasn’t my story.  It made me sad for them.  Made me wish they would have done something.

Overall, I am glad I read this novel.  I look forward to reading Mr. Sousa’s future work and I will recommend Almost Gone to my Portuguese and Brasilian friends.  I think anyone who knows what it’s like to build a life in one country when their heart still belongs to another will appreciate Almost Gone

Final Take: 3/5



Unknown March 27, 2013 at 8:37 PM  

A very thoughtful review, nice work. I remember the first time I ever read anything by a Portuguese American author too. You might be interested in taking a look at the work of Frank X. Gaspar and Katherine Vaz sometime. Here is a useful site for finding out more about Luso authors:

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