It’s rare to meet a writer with such a unique voice as that of Martha Batalha: the novelist behind The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão…
Spellbinding. Extraordinary. Enchanting. Three words the critics had for Martha Batalha‘s debut novel. However the term most often used to describe The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão – and the most apposite – seems to be ‘unique’. A unique voice in the literary world is praise for a novelist of any stature, but for a writer just starting out? Wow. And if you’re not wowed by Batalha’s debut, you might need to check for a pulse. It’s set to become a major motion picture too. Before her name is absolutely EVERYWHERE, we spoke to the writer behind The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão; our book for May…
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but I grew up having mixed feelings about it. I came from a middle class, hard-working family. My grandfather was a Portuguese immigrant whose father worked as a stevedore, my grandmother had to stop studying when she was 9 to make money as an assistant to a seamstress.
My parents were the first in their families to go to the university and I learned very early in life that it was important to have a safe career. Although they always supported me, artistic endeavors were for the rich. I ended up choosing a path that could give me a salary and could keep me writing, and I majored in Journalism. Only after I was an accomplished professional did I have the courage to quit my job to invest in literature. It took me 30 years, from that first desire to become a writer, to sit and try to be one.
Tell us about the process of writing Euridice…
I started writing later in life because it was becoming unbearable not to do so. I wrote and threw away four books before finding my voice and the story I wanted to tell. Ironically, it was a story about ordinary women in an unremarkable place, but it was exactly what I knew about. I knew about the nuances in relationships among neighbors, couples and friends in the neighborhood where I grew up, and how hard it was for women to accomplish things in my generation, not to mention my mother’s and grandmother’s generations. Writers are like scavengers, Stephen King said. I just had to dust off the novel from within.
Which writers inspire you?
Lygia Bojunga Nunes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ruy Castro, Vinicius de Moraes, Carlos Ruiz Zaffon, Jose Saramago and George Saunders.
Is Rio somewhere you know well?
I worked as a reporter in Rio for many years which meant I was paid to learn and write about the city and its people. I didn’t know at that time, but it was a valuable job, that fuelled my empathy. I also did an extensive research about the city during the 1940s and 1950s.
Do you have a sister?
I have two sisters, and they are quite different than me, like Euridice and Guida were different in the book.
How does feel about feminism today?
It is a discussion with different levels. On one extreme there is the sophistication of the #Metoo movement, something that could only occur in first world countries and within specific industries. It is a movement of the well-off, well educated. On the other extreme there are girls being forced to marry when they are 11 years old, teenagers getting pregnant, no access to abortion clinics or birth control pills, domestic violence. This proves how much the world – no matter the place, culture or social level, is driven by men. Things are changing, but in some places more than in others, and in upper social classes faster than in lower classes.
So many strong characters in your book. How did you come up with them?
I grew up around women – my mom, sisters, grandmother and aunts. I also spent ten years at a catholic school ruled by nuns that had just recently accepted boys, so the classrooms had 35 girls and maybe 5 boys. Some of them were strong, some became shadows, irrelevant. Some were bitter about their paths, some found their ways to become someone. All of them designed their lives around men. No matter the story, social class or generation, I could see their struggles. The only way to navigate a male-dominated world is being strong, and maybe – maybe – you can get somewhere.
Your favourite books?
These books deeply changed my perception of the world – Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marques (it is a history book about Latin America), David Copperfield (it was powerful to read it when I was 11 years old) and Gilberto Freyre’s The Masters and the Slaves.
What would you say to anyone thinking of writing their first book?
Get some source of income, because it will take you a while. Make tons of mistakes, until you are able to recognize your bad writing (this is a gift). Don’t worry about the outcome, focus on the process. Writing is like life – the beginning and the end are easy, but the middle is always difficult.
What’s next for you?
I am writing my third novel, about a politician and landowner in the Northeast of Brazil. He had so much land that an estate with his properties was created and named after him. It will be a funny, darkly comic book about arbitrary power and the unthinkable things men can do when they have it.