A young wife relocates with her financier husband to Sao Paulo, where her life of cushy privilege juxtaposes the crime, protests, refugees, and gentrification that roil around her as she contends with expat life and a newly rocky marriage.
Edward Said once described exile as 'the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: Its essential sadness can never be surmounted.' However true that may be, it applies far more to the struggling Haitians, who are beaten and robbed for being 'Africanos,' than to the novel’s less-than-humble narrator. MacKenzie recognizes that Emma’s self-imposed exile creates a different kind of rift entirely, a 'privileged kind of displacement' that could easily be repaired with an airline ticket. ... MacKenzie makes clear what Emma might not always see: that her life stands in stark contrast to those of both newly arrived Haitians and impoverished Brazilians. Expatriate novels often reveal far more about their characters’ homelands than they do about their presumably exotic destinations. Feast Days does likewise.
Feast Days is a book about the haves and have-nots told from the point of view of the haves. For all their differences, the expats share an important bond with their Brazilian hosts: the common language of capital gains and wine lists. Yet for all their luxuries, Emma and her husband lack one vital status symbol: a child to dote on ... Using thin brushstrokes, inventive turns of phrase, and fragmentary, dialogue-heavy sections, he deftly captures how an outsider is only able to comprehend a country in pieces, assembling an incomplete puzzle over time. What holds this portrait of a marriage together, across time and across continents, is Emma’s voice. Wry and melancholy, she is a sensitive weather vane to the changing winds in her own relationships, and to the storm brewing in a country that she wants desperately to make sense of, if only to understand how she ended up in Brazil in the first place. MacKenzie’s slender novel feels heavier than many novels twice its weight, dramatizing what it’s like for the wealthy to live with the poor in the corner of their eye.
MacKenzie's narrative could better be described as complex vignettes, forming pieces of conversations and events that are oftentimes non-sequential, which can sometimes be confusing and difficult to follow. However, MacKenzie makes up for it with a main character that evokes not only empathy but also a good deal of curiosity. Emma is not a whiner or a weakling; she attempts to make Sao Paulo home in the best way she knows how, by merging with its inhabitants and trying to understand it from within ... Feast Days poses the dilemma of being a stranger not solely in a strange land, but also inside our own lives.