The Consul General's Wife by Aliefka Bijlsma
Posted by Krystal Larson at 3:17 PM Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Melchior Steenbergen is leading an idyllic life. An elite member of Holland’s diplomatic corps, he is the Consul General in Rio, with a sweeping view of the Ipanema bay from his official residence, and a beautiful wife 20 years his junior. His trustworthy maid, Mercy, who is from Ghana and has followed him everywhere, attends to his every need. At 59, his time as a diplomat is winding down, but he expects to put one more feather in his cap: an ambassadorship. Paris, perhaps. Doesn't he deserve it?
But Melchior’s glorious world is a façade, a house of cards, and sharp winds are starting to blow.
The Consul General's Wife is the story of a man, elegant and dignified, unable to recognize his own flaws. Set against the mystical and unforgiving city of Rio, the novel is a comedy about a dying generation. And a tragedy about a man who has only a few days left to wake up.
Russell Shorto, author and contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine says: "The Consul General’s Wife is set in the rarified world of Dutch diplomats, but the expertly drawn characters who inhabit it represent a much broader spectrum of humanity. Urbane, worldly, world-weary, scheming: they seem ultimate creatures of our age. Then again, Aliefka’s Bijlsma’s rich novel calls to mind most of all the work of Graham Greene--which suggests that we are dealing with a category of human experience that is timeless."
Melchior is the main character, but the reader will get to know a diverse group of characters after completing this book. Set in the Dutch embassy in Brazil, the author does a terrific job of describing the scenes and characters to the point where the reader can picture them. This book was interesting in that the author provides analysis of each characters' thoughts and actions. Getting to know Melchior, Mercy, Leandra, Nikki, and Tygo may at first be difficult for the reader, but become slowly easier as the reader continues on in the novel. The authors' analyses is fascinating and a tad too psychological. The reader will enjoy forming his/her own opinions and looking to the author's for comparison.
The plot itself is a little on the slow side. The Consul General's Wife felt more like a "study" than an actual book in certain places. The detailed analyses were fun to read, but there was not much action. Although the reader gets to know the characters very well, the characters were almost depressing to read about. Their pasts and their current decisions made it hard to continue to read. Melchior was the focus of the novel despite the in-depth development of the other characters; this facet of the story was "ok" but some readers may prefer to read more from Mercy's perspective or Leandra's. Overall, this book is recommended to adult readers.
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