In the aftermath of the mysterious disappearance of their eldest daughter, a once-golden family prepares to leave behind the seeming paradise of Brazil for the safer, more pragmatic shores of Canada. But as the family counts down the days to their departure, secrets and betrayals surface, threatening their hopes for a new life.

Brazil, 1962: A young woman walks into the waters off a crowded beach and vanishes. A year later, her family - the once-golden family of their privileged little community - prepares to leave behind the seeming paradise of Brazil in the wake of their eldest daughter's presumed drowning. As they attend a series of goodbye parties and count down the days to their departure, we are taken into the heart of a family whose many charms belie more troubling truths.   
     There is the family's charismatic father, whose emotional extremes are becoming increasingly disturbing; his long-suffering wife, who made a mistake that has shattering consequences for the family she meant to protect; and their two remaining daughters, both on the precipice of joining the adult world with all its secrets and lies. Then there is the lost daughter herself, a woman undone by her attempts to grasp at happiness.   
     With settings ranging from the opulence of the legendary Copacabana Club to the poverty of Rio's fishing villages, this sensual and beautifully written novel reveals the soul of a family living in the shadow of tragedy, one poised on the brink of a new life, if only they could make peace with the past.


The day Luiza disappeared was as bright and hot as any other that summer, and although most of us were at the beach, no one saw anything, even if many of us would later claim we had. Such a curious thing—everybody wanting to be a part of it. We thought she was swimming out awfully far, and said so to one another afterwards. We were sure we heard splashing. Why didn’t we do anything at the time? She was such a strong swimmer, and it was so calm. She was twenty years old, no longer a girl. We thought—
     The air changed, became heavier, suspending the gulls above us. Water roared in our ears, muffling the sound of someone calling out. This is what we would say, most of us, whenever we told the story. Even the sky was different. Not storm clouds, grey-gathered in warning, but silver, brighter than any of us could remember, flashing off the water almost painfully. Mist reflecting the white sun. We squinted against it and finally made out a voice, more insistent—her youngest sister, Evie, calling out again from the rock pools, the stick she held still jammed in the sand, and she ran toward us, pointing. We all followed the child’s gaze out to sea, then had to turn our eyes away, blinded briefly by the scattered light.
     But there’s no one there! someone said finally.
     I can’t see a thing.
     My god. She’s right. Luiza’s not there.
     Some of us waded out into the water, then swam toward the empty horizon, while the rest stood on the beach, unsure of what to do. Evie ran to those still asleep on towels and bleached beach chairs, fell into a crouch, and shook them awake, still calling her sister’s name. It was strange to hear her voice, so loud and piercing, because she was the shy one, always lost in her own little world. She soon gave up on us and sprinted back to the rocks, crying out for her other sister, Magda, sharp and angular, always scowling.
     Luiza’s not there anymore!
     Magda leapt down from the boulder, spraying sand. Soon they were both crying. A few of us ran the length of beach to see if maybe Luiza had been pulled along by the current. We stared out over the water, imposing a tiny dark shape onto the brilliant haze, the arc of diminutive arms. But there was noth­ing, just empty, dazzling space.
     Eventually, her parents arrived and Hugo fell to his knees, his great body heaving in the sand. Dora remained standing, resting her hand on his shoulder; we always said she was his buttress against himself. In the hours that followed, she stayed calm and asked questions, but her lovely face was warped by fear. Then the police and an ambulance came, just in case. And us, murmuring, hearts thudding, shaking sand from our towels to cover their warm, trembling arms.
     Later, someone would say they saw a vulture circling in the distant sky.
     We sent our maids with food to the family’s home in Villa Confederação, and we visited for a time, embracing them and clasping their hands. But then we stayed away—surely, we whis­pered, they needed time alone. But the truth was that Hugo frightened us. His tall, wasting body, his feral stare. Yet we continued to drive past their house, surrounded like our own by eight-foot stone walls embedded with broken glass and barbed wire; its gate locked, doors bolted, the windows with bars, dec­orative and invulnerable, because like us, they had once found footprints in the flower beds outside their bedrooms.
     We imagine walking through their gardens as we had at their parties so many times before, and there we see Luiza lean­ing against the trunk of a schefflera. We follow her, weaving through firs, hibiscus, the pink-studded branches of the silk-floss tree. She was always a bit odd, too serious—she sometimes seemed to swallow anxiously at nothing, then look around quickly, hoping no one had noticed. Or maybe hoping they had? At parties, she was more comfortable with children, braiding tattered flowers into their hair. So earnest! we said, fatigued by her affectations: her scribbling in journals and her mannered speech, the way she wore her grandmother’s ratty white gloves everywhere. But some of us thought we loved her for them. For others, it was Hugo—the handsome Canadian expat, once all limbs and laughter—whom we loved for his easy charm and inextinguishable energy, whipped up and transmitted through us like light. Others among us have loved Dora all our lives, and admired her proud beauty, even as she drove around the neighbourhood in that noisy little Simca. She was one of us, a descendant of the Confederados, who fled in defeat from Alabama after the American Civil War to Brazil, where they licked their wounds and prospered. Our ancestors, Baptists and Methodists, brought clean churches to this super­stitious place and woke the echoes with their hymns. Peasants here farm with ploughs now, which they never would have had in this backward country if not for our people.
     Together, Hugo and Dora were the golden ones in our small community. Ever since those early years when they wore nothing but white and danced at the Copacabana, Hugo pulling her up onto the tabletops to join him, and Dora shaking confetti from her hair while we watched them dance aloft. Him, laughing easily, his fist crammed with bills won from the Jockey Club. Her at the beach, lacquered nails against the lichen of craggy seaside rocks, looking out at the white sea shedding haze. He brought out the best in her, warm flickers of joy, and somehow it mat­tered to us that she stayed with him through everything, haugh­tily selfless. That remarkable family. Not so golden anymore.
     They had been scheduled to sail for Canada within days when Luiza disappeared. Would Dora still move her family away? Theirs had been the life—such a life! Until the vultures circled the shore, and seeing something, they dove . . .
     —Why say such an unkind thing?
     —Yes, stop that! Why must we always try to make stories about dead girls into something lurid.
     —It was a terrible accident, nothing more.
     —But was it really? An accident? My maid swears she saw her all alone on the tram. And this was the day of their good­bye party. And she was crying!
     —Oh, everyone but her parents knew she was up to something.
     —It’s true. Such troubled people.
     —What a dreadful thing. What awful people we are.
     But some of us can’t stop ourselves. We say it’s retribution for too much shine, too many flowers. So much fruit. We heard Luiza was ashamed of us. All her mother’s money from dia­mond mines and sugar plantations, and her ashamed of us! Drunk once at a party (her parents had always indulged her), she said we might as well still be slaveholders for what little we paid them—our chauffeurs and maids, the babás who raised our children—as though condemning herself as well made it all right. Her mother, embarrassed, apologized and took her home. But things soon got worse. She gets it from him, we whispered. It was bound to happen. When people are that beautiful, the rot is on the inside.
     And yet sometimes we walk along the beach, searching for a sign, imagining we will be the ones to find her. Each time, we are frightened and a little hopeful that maybe we could ease their pain. We pity them, wondering which hell is worse— knowing, or not knowing. Finding, or not finding.
     We loved them—we still do. But they’ve long been lost to us. They stepped outside themselves for a time, just long enough to let us in, to subdue our bristling need, before retreat­ing back into their family’s embrace, and behind their walls. We were not enough for them. Fallen, they are still our betters.
     And if we found Luiza, would she be bloated and blue, face eaten away by sea animals? Or by now would she be nothing but a bleached heap of frail bones, sun-stripped? Who among us could stomach it, to wrap some part of her in fine cloth and take her home? Something to lay to rest, we would say in hushed, ragged tones. We couldn’t bear it, to be the ones to mark the end of their age. But then we could truly embrace them, even the men among us, because we do that here. We feel that much.
     Yes, they belong here, with us: the embodiment of our brightest selves flashing in the night. If they go, we dim and grow smaller. And they become mortal after all.
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart