It Is Wood, It Is Stone is Gabriella Burnham’s debut novel where the female American protagonist, Linda spends a year in Sao Paolo, Brazil. She lives with her husband, Dennis who is a visiting offer of history at the University of Sao Paolo. Apart from the gorgeous cover, the novel, written from Linda’s perspective, is an interesting study of soul-searching, overthinking, anxiety, and love.
Linda is restless in her life and was on the verge of leaving Dennis when he announces their travel plans to Sao Paolo. The story also focuses on Marta, who is a maid at the apartment where Linda and Dennis live, and who has more ownership of the home, than Linda herself. There is an interesting dynamic of power and privilege between Linda and Marta. She is not sure whether she should be able to order Marta around or be cooperative. Linda struggles with control and that is evident in her interactions with Marta, who is an excellent maid and who has her own history. Marta sees Linda as someone to take care of and protect. Linda wants to be comfortable with Marta but her own uncertainties put a barrier.
The third woman who influences Linda is Celia, a theatre manager, who attracts Linda and makes her feel alive. Celia’s lifestyle and friends provide Linda another glimpse of Sao Paulo. Celia helps Linda but there are other repercussions.
Apart from the privilege that is an important part of Linda and Marta’s relationship, privilege and respect also play a role in Dennis and the University Provost’s relationship. Eduardo and his wife, Melinda take in Dennis and Linda but Linda’s relationship with Melinda is fraught with Linda’s own anxieties.
At times, Linda’s narrative seems like a stream of consciousness. Her listlessness and being alone forces her to take up painting and get a friend in Celia. It was heartening to see an American woman be out of place, feel anxious, feel lonely, and wonder about life, rather than being a perfect social butterfly. Somehow, Linda’s fate reminded me of the thousands of women who come to the US as wives of immigrants and how hard it is for them to form a community, occupy themselves if they don’t have a job or children, and also expecting their husbands to fulfill the roles of partner, best friend, and loved family member. Linda, as an immigrant to Brazil, faces similar struggles.
The novel is an incisive portrait of privilege, a breathtaking tour of Sao Paulo and the surrounding areas, an insider’s view of functioning anxiety, and how sharing stories can be a way to form bonds. The novel also summed up the growth of Linda which is something that I want to remember, too, “I want my story to be remembered by how I evolved not only for myself, but for the important people in my life.”