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The Caregiver

Review

The Caregiver

From Brazil to the US, Samuel Park’s life and career stretched across two countries, mirroring his riveting final novel. Park was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and raised in Torrance, California, where he attended Stanford and earned his doctorate at the University of Southern California. Later, he would move on to Chicago and become a professor of English. Park was also the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART. His life ended shortly after finishing THE CAREGIVER at the age of 41 due to his fight with stomach cancer.

This posthumously published novel chronicles one girl’s struggle to understand her fierce mother and their brutal past. Park’s harrowing story is narrated through Mara Alencar’s point of view as both a child and an adult. The book is divided into three time periods and two countries. It begins with Mara in Bel-Air, California, during the early 1990s when she is 26. However, there are flashbacks to Rio de Janeiro in the late 1970s and early ’80s when Mara is eight and 16, respectively. Through her story, Park highlights the complicated American immigrant experience and Brazil’s violent history as a result of its military dictatorship set in place by the US.

"At its core, THE CAREGIVER is a brilliantly entwined work of art that illustrates the bonds that hold us together, proving there is nothing more pure than the love of a caregiver."

As the novel opens, Mara is living in a small apartment as an undocumented immigrant with three roommates and is the caregiver for an older, wealthy woman, Kathryn Weatherly, who is suffering from stomach cancer. Kathryn teases that she will leave her grand house to Mara because she feels Mara is like a daughter to her after four months of working together. Mara gradually becomes witness to the inner workings of Kathryn’s life, including her divorce from her husband, Nelson. She even begins forming a relationship of her own with Nelson as he thoughtfully begins to ask her questions about her past and Brazil’s history. Their conversations lead Mara to dive deeper into parts of her past that she has had difficulty accepting.

Growing up in Copacabana, Mara worshiped her mother, Ana. She observed every move and gesture she made. As a single mother, Ana struggled to make money and worked mostly as a voice-over actress for American movies. At the height of Carnival, Ana finds herself especially short on money after taking advances on her salary. Out of desperation and determination to provide for her daughter, Ana agrees to an acting job helping a radical rebel group. Their plan revolves around distracting Police Chief Lima and luring him out of the station. When the rebel’s plan comes to a violent fruition, Ana scrambles to make it back home to Mara.

At the age of 16, the roles have reversed significantly between mother and daughter. Mara becomes determined to care for her mother as she suffers from heart disease after years of smoking. Underneath Ana’s physical pain, she is also struggling to deal with the trauma that unfolded on that violent day many years ago. Ana can barely sleep through the night or leave their apartment. To make matters worse, she begins to receive haunting telephone calls that further unnerve her. She believes these calls are coming from Lima to further torture her. Motivated to protect her mother, Mara takes matters into her own hands. She finds herself drawn to Lima’s house and embarks on a path that uncovers secrets about her mother and alters their life forever.

Park delivers an honest and intricate story in the frame of a dynamic mother-daughter relationship. The bond between Mara and Ana is evident in every chapter. It is this sacred bond that creates such inner conflict for Mara and makes it difficult for her to forgive many of the choices Ana made. While the storyline jumps from past to future, Park vividly sets the scene in each location, seamlessly bringing the reader along Mara’s journey. With his protagonist, Park crafts a disillusioned young woman who has witnessed adversity and violence in her life. Nevertheless, she continues to move forward as she endeavors to find her way.

At its core, THE CAREGIVER is a brilliantly entwined work of art that illustrates the bonds that hold us together, proving there is nothing more pure than the love of a caregiver.

Reviewed by Catherine Rubino on September 28, 2018

The Caregiver
by Samuel Park

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501178776
  • ISBN-13: 9781501178771