Even in its English translation...Pereira de Almeida’s semi-autobiographical 'hybrid novel' is a challenging read. It feels less like a novel than a collection of essays linked together by the author’s preoccupation with her hair — or, rather, the hair of her narrator, Mila. But as anyone blessed to be black knows, one’s identity is inextricably wound up in one’s hair. Fact or fiction, that is ultimately what this book is all about ... hough much of Pereira de Almeida’s prose reads like lyrical stream of consciousness, her use of Mila’s hair as a metaphor, the perfect stand-in for all her questions of identity, is universal ... Timely and relevant, That Hair contains themes that will be recognizable to so many readers, regardless of their mother tongue, who are wrestling with their own mixed-race experience today — anyone who is attempting to make sense of hair texture, skin color and family ties that cannot fit into little blue census boxes. Despite the label of fiction, Mila’s struggle in That Hair is all too real.
... the novel is never frivolous. It is thoughtfully observed and calmly experimental, reading less like traditional fiction than like the transcribed thoughts and questions of the smartest person you know. It's reminiscent of the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli's early work, and shares with Luiselli a fairly elevated tone. Pereira de Almeida tends toward big words and complex phrasing, a stylistic choice that can often backfire in fiction, but not here. Her circuitous prose style, which Becker renders as relaxed and conversational, sucks the reader rapidly into Mila's wandering thoughts.
Unlike a traditional novel, which is driven by narrative, Pereira de Almeida’s tale is driven by potentiality, by its willingness to contradict itself and provide answers or termination points that are only ever provisional ... That Hair takes a fascinating turn toward the end, where we begin to question the reality being created within it. It’s a difficult turn to parse or fully pull apart. The other self comes to the fore ... A reader has the sense that the truth, whatever that is, and to the extent there is such a thing, is incapable of being shaped enough to provide the usual pleasures of fiction: shape, knowledge of characters, drama, foreground, background, closure. Rather, this is a many-angled exploration of self and history, an exploration in which every potential path is pursued with equal intensity ... a beautiful and truthful book in its particulars, but it’s also highly tangled and untamable in structure. Its multiplicity presents readers with a challenge; its multiplicity feels like a distorting mirror.