The Last Brazil of Benjamin East
The year is 1980. Seventy-two-year-old Benjamin East returns to America from Brazil after an almost 40 year hiatus. Quite a big dreamer, coupled with his idealistic mindset of the America of yesteryear, Benjamin hopes to become famous by publishing his memoir. En route to New York, Benjamin helps a complete stranger, Amy McCaffrey, escape from her abusive husband. She, too, carries a hope of utilizing her art scholarship. The only problem is that it was issued to her more than seven years ago. After their quests lead to rejection, the odd couple heads out on a month-long bus trip to California. Once again, they hope for their dreams to be fulfilled. But this time, Benjamin and Amy have no idea that they are about to embark on a soul-searching journey.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Jonathan Freedman relays a story inspired by his experiences as a foreign correspondent in Brazil. Although the first draft of The Last Brazil of Benjamin East literally sits in a box for more than thirty years, Freedman finds that he is still fascinated by the “larger-than-life” fictional character, Benjamin East, that he created as a young writer. But, to properly develop Benjamin’s character, Freedman incorporates a variety of helpful literary tools – starting off with Amy, Benjamin’s sidekick. Clearly Amy is young enough to be Benjamin’s daughter, and their backgrounds initially appear to be unrelated. The truth is that they have more in common then they realize: they have difficulty facing their marred pasts.
Freedman surrounds his two protagonists with a handful of negative characters. From examples such as the immigration officer and Louie (Benjamin’s brother) to Rosemary (the waitress at Harvey’s) and Joshua (the fledging writer), this foiled cast consistently force Benjamin and Amy to introspection. Benjamin and Amy’s characters are exceptional because they are always running away from their problems, and their reactions are unpredictable. And this unpredictability gives Freedman wide opportunities to create endless un-hackneyed scenes and keeps his plot fresh and always moving. In addition, Freedman alternates scenes throughout his third-person narrative that includes Benjamin’s flashbacks to both happy, as well as unresolved, moments during his time in Brazil.
While all these literary elements are pertinent to the design of this story, what makes Freedman’s recent novel so appealing is that it is purely a human-interest story. Certainly, readers will be able to relate to Benjamin and Amy in one form or other – whether from personal experience or familiarity with a family member or acquaintance. Tender-hearted and provocative from beginning to end, The Last Brazil of Benjamin East is an engaging read and destined to be an award winner.
Bright Lights Press