Review: Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey

We’ve all had moments when we just want to disappear. In Idra Novey’s fantastic debut novel, Ways to Disappear, Brazilian author Beatriz Yagoda does just that – in a way true to her magical realism writing style: “In a crumbling park in the crumbling back end of Copacabana, a woman stopped under an almond tree with a suitcase and a cigar. She was a round woman with a knob of gray hair pinned at the nape of her neck…she bit into her cigar, lifted her suitcase onto the lowest branch, and climbed up after it.”

And just like that, Beatriz is gone, and a motley search party is formed: her children, (logical Raquel and “sensual and sleepy” Marcus); her “thin and high strung” American translator, Emma; and Rocha, her former publisher. Together they learn Beatriz owes a substantial gambling debt to a hardened loan shark, and they must find her before the shark takes his revenge.

Part noir, part screwball comedy, Ways to Disappear is a fun, faced-paced romp filled with love affairs and madness and charming moments of intents lost in translation. But Novey grounds the potentially light-hearted narrative with poignant themes of belonging and identity, particularly with Emma, who has spent most of her life “floating between two countries, in the vapor between languages….she now felt as confined by her floating state as other, more wholesome people were to the towns where they were born.”

The result is a surprisingly powerful novel that explores how the ties the bind us to what we hold most dear – our families, our identities – are not fixed but malleable. How well do we know our mothers? Ourselves? Our countries? Our languages? Being open to reevaluation, Novey seems to say, can bring us closer together – and set us free.