Before I start the actual review I would like to say how I came across Vista Chinesa:
I befriended (or vice versa??) a Portuguese translator on Instagram and she told me that I had to read Vista Chinesa. She then sent the English translation to me. A big thank you!
I have always said many times that literature has a knack of expressing those sentiments that we are unable to convey or even focus on a topic which would make people uncomfortable to talk about in public, as is the case of Vista Chinesa. I will be blunt, the book is about rape.
I understand this is not a topic that is easy to talk about, especially in the light of terrible incidents that happened over the past few years and what makes it worse is that films like Noe’s Irreversible or Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange glorify this heinous act. However Tatiana Salem Levy treats the topic with care and it is based on a real life incident.
Taking the form of a testimony to her children, Júlia is out jogging in the Vista Chinesa area in Rio where she is sexually assaulted. In the hands of of an amateur writer this would be the first this mentioned but the actual act is described somewhere near the middle. What the main focus is as this stage is the trauma Júlia experiences: the embarrassment of undressing in front of her husband, Michel, the unease she feels when touched by her own parents (as an aside this is the first book I’ve read in a long time where the mother/daughter relationship is actually positive), the deepening of Júlia’s relationship with her woman friend ,the psychological breakdowns experienced when being interrogated. Later on when Júlia regains trust in her husband she is pregnant with twins and is scared to discover that one will be a girl, thus fearing that history will repeat itself.
The book goes deeper and also acts as a criticism of how the law treats such cases and it also is a jab at how the Brazilian government spent thousands in 2016 to make Rio acceptable for tourists when all these places are no longer being used and Rio still has the highest assault rate in Brazil.
Tatiana Salem Levy does not glorify the actual assault in anyway. It’s all told in a matter of fact way. Neither is this book a diatribe against males. If anything when Júlia has to start identifying suspects she feels guilty that the majority of the men are actually innocent.
Vista Chinesa can be uncomfortable to read but there is no denying that it is a VERY powerful novel and I can guarantee that it will stay with the reader for a long time. It is also under 140 pages but despite being a book one can read in a couple of hours, it has many layers and complexities to it, and more importantly, it opens eyes. This book makes us realise what it’s like to go through when such an incident happens and how it never leaves the mind and how these acts are still happening without stricter laws.
I do think Vista Chinesa is, indeed, a book one must read, yes, topics like this can make us uneasy but literature is there to open our minds and tackling a subject such as sexual assault in such a way helps create awareness for men and see the bigger picture. Without wanting to sound hyperbolic, I consider Vista Chinesa to be a work of genius. This is a bold daring book that will change your life once read.