Sunday, September 06, 2009

Coming Together

Coming Together:
A Novel of Love and Intrigue in Rio

by Joyce Norman and Joy Collins

(Chalet Publishers / 0-984-08362-6 / 978-0-984-08362-6 / June 2009 / 228 pages / $14.95 / Amazon $11.66 / Kindle $6.99)

Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

Acclaimed filmmaker Daisy Gardner is hired in Chapter Two of Coming Together to create a documentary about Brazil in the early 1980s that accurately depicts the country in all its moods from Rio to the rainforest and from the playground beaches of the rich to the nearby hillside huts of the pragmatic poor. Recently divorced from a man who was jealous about her success and who resented the fact she wasn’t ready to start a family, the thirty-two-year-old Daisy is more than ready to plunge into another foreign assignment.

Authors Joyce Norman and Joy Collins foreshadow the ultimate theme of this richly detailed novel in chapter one, as “the large wooden double doors fell in with a thunderous noise like a bomb exploding. Startled, Isabella dropped her fork and stood. When the dust cleared, she saw four Brazilian Federal Police, each holding a machine gun.” The police have raided Isabella’s home on Rio’s Corcovado Mountain where she cares for abandoned children while facilitating their adoption. The policemen grab as many children as they can carry and take them away to a state institution.

As Daisy plans her trip at her Washington, D.C., home, the plight of Brazil’s millions of street children some 4,769 miles away is well outside her field of vision. So, too, is a talented Brazilian filmmaker, Luis Campos, who will join Daisy and her long-time friend, cameraman Charlie Crawford on the project team. Daisy has never heard of Campos, but Charlie has met him and claims he “has the touch” and would be tailor-made for the project.

Once in Rio, Daisy soon discovers Campos’ contagious, yet bluntly honest, passion for Brazil and its history. In addition to his skills with a camera, he’s the perfect guide for a documentary team seeking the best locations for filming. One such location is Isabella’s “A Candeia” orphanage where the team will take dramatic footage of the tall Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue on the mountain’s summit.

Once there, Daisy meets the children and a hundred questions come to mind. Why is the orphanage hounded by the federal police? Why are those trying to adopt or otherwise help the abandoned children met with so much government scorn and interference? The children, variously considered a national nuisance and a national, scandal become one of the candid subjects for the film, as well as a cause Daisy finds she cannot overlook.

Isabella says, “If I could tell you the stories of the man babies we have found in garbage cans, in open fields in the Northeast, in filthy stables and God knows where else, then you would understand why I work day and night to get these babies out of Brazil. These babies are little fighters.”

While the documentary project serves as the novel’s foundation, Joyce Norman and Joy Collins have skillfully blended in Daisy’s on-going issues with her ex-husband and her parents to create a well-developed protagonist. The authors’ familiarity with the chaotic adoption process in Brazil leads to finely rendered scenes that add tension and urgency to the plot while effectively showing the overarching hopelessness of most street children’s future.

As Daisy, Charlie and Luis plan their documentary, the authors devote a fair amount of space to the sights, sounds, culture, restaurants, slums and architecture of Brazil, most especially Rio de Janeiro (“River of January”) with mixed results. These tours bring the city alive through the eyes of a filmmaker; but at times, they are more travelogues than fictional scenes and slow down the plot.

Readers may be unhappy with the authors’ decision to indirectly resolve one harrowing event late in the novel via a few offhand comments made during an after-the-fact conversation. Nonetheless, the plot succeeds. Daisy Gardner’s carefully organized business trip to Brazil becomes an unexpected and chaotic personal journey as well as a powerful and heartfelt story.

See Also: Joy Collins' Website
The PODBRAM Review of Joy's First Book

The B&N Page of Coming Together
The March of Books Review
The GoodReads Review
Malcolm's Review at Amazon UK

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