Review of: After Rafaela
by Jo Chumas
Again, submitted by my friend and fellow reviewing enthusiast, Theresa Atashkar
This is a novel about four girls that were teens in the 90’s and the best of friends. They went to school
together, studied together, shared their most secret thoughts with each other, or so they thought. Lenox, or Leni; Sara, who changed her name to India; and Becca all came from unhappy homes where they were either unwanted or discarded; and then there was Rafaela, or Rafi who’s parents truly loved her and gave love and at times a home to the other girls. Leni and Rafi were the closest and were more like sisters than just friends.
Rafaela’s mother had also inherited a Villa in Italy from her family called the Villa San Antonio where the family went every summer to get away from the dreary weather of London. The summer that Rafaela was to turn 18 all the girls were allowed to go with the family for the summer and spend their summer breaks at the Villa to celebrate Rafaela’s birthday. They were tended to by Valentina, an older Italian woman that lived at the Villa and loved the girls as much as Rafi’s parents. The summer was wonderful for the girls! They shopped, partied, swam and became closer. Everything was great until the day of Rafaela’s 18th
Twenty-two years later Leni returns to Villa San Antonio to find her just as dead as Rafi and the rest of the girls had become. “Villa San Antonio looked sad, unloved, grief stricken, as though it were stuck in some sort of ‘after Rafaela’ paralysis. Leni could smell the sadness, musty, closed up, repressed aching.” I could relate to how she felt
having recently lost my mother to Alzheimer’s and found it very hard returning home again with only memories of my mother there.
This novel, written by Jo Chumas is so poignant and heartfelt. Her ability to draw me into the story of what was left of life after Rafaela and keep me up all night to finish grieving with everyone touched by Rafi’s death was amazing. I felt lighter when I was finished, but unable to sleep and lay there thinking about my own grief for the rest of the night. Everything was so wonderfully described; every crack, every garden, every piece of furniture so
deeply described, I felt like I had been there and lived through it all, even the weather! “A storm was brewing, and an occasional, ominous rumble of thunder sounded far away in the mountains of Switzerland. Over the horizon, the sky was turning crimson orange with violent twirls of mocha, like some exotic pudding.” I knew what each young girl looked like as they grew into womanhood and could see them and tell them apart as if they were part of my childhood! “A storm was brewing, and an occasional, ominous rumble of thunder sounded far away in the mountains of Switzerland. Over the horizon, the sky was turning crimson orange with violent twirls of mocha, like some exotic pudding.” I knew what each young girl looked like as they grew into womanhood and could see them and tell them apart as if they were part of my childhood!
Nothing I say can do justice to this novel and the story that the author has told. It is a story that I will read again and enjoy as much or more than the first time I read it. I loved it!