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HFC Editorial Review for "Standing Tall" by Debora DeFarias

Although she dazzled Argentina as the first woman to become a doctor, a daunting task for women of her era, Cecilia Grierson is haunted by disturbing dreams. Believing she had left the traumas of past relationships behind, chance brings her first love back into her life; and instead of a continuation of the love affair, Cecilia finds she wants closure. This portrait of an incredible woman depicts the meaning of life, the power of love, and how it eludes us. From the Pampas to Buenos Aires and to Paris, this moving novel reveals much of the vibrant culture and realities of life in South America during the progressive Gilded age of the late 19th-century, in a book replete with historical details, personal conflicts, and love.

“All external events are beyond our control; we should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens.”

And yet, Cecilia Grierson, a true woman’s woman, does not accept that things are beyond her control. In a world where most women are resigned to accept their traditional roles progressing from child and daughter to wife and mother, she breaks the glass ceiling and becomes the first woman doctor of Argentina, fighting the pressures and constant barriers set against her. Yet, even as she pushes forward in advancing her own state, she struggles with something binding her to the past, and the elusiveness of love, especially for a woman of her fortitude and intellect.

Ms deFarias takes us on a resplendent journey, and she truly surrounds us with a vivid recreation of Cecilia’s world in Argentina, so much so that your senses are enlivened, such as the moment she steps into a paddock and her childhood memories cascade in a beautiful scene - ‘the smell of hay, salt, grain. and wood, all seem to be combined as one chemical element, a component of her childhood, rooted in her brain, her heart, her soul’ - and offered to us at a moment we believe in the power of love as she is swept into the charms of Jacques Copplet, a handsome French-Argentinian biologist who becomes a peer associate with her at the University Hospital.

But as she learns, life is a game - ‘one day blissful and we are delighted with laughter, the next day is miserable and we are soaked in tears. But since the world does not stop spinning in order for us to recompose, we eventually must learn to get up and recover, as promptly as possible.’ The author’s ability to absorb the reader into Cecilia’s emotions is remarkable and shows a rare insight into the human heart, often times splayed across the pages in stark reality and sometimes you feel as if you are reading your own thoughts as the connection between Cecilia and you, as the reader, blurs with brilliant skill.

There are so many clever uses of poetry and famous quotes woven into the intricate storyline, so many times I just paused to soak in the words, and I felt I was reading a lesson in literature crafting... however, I will say that at times the “life lessons” drew me away from Cecilia’s actual storyline as I got deeper into the novel. I had to stop and remember what was going on in her life and where the story was going so I could proceed, recalling I was reading a novel and not a dissertation on life, love, acceptance, peace, beauty, security, health, and prosperity. The overabundant times I highlighted an exceptional poem or quote or lesson to use in my own life, somehow overshadowed Cecilia’s story and left me questioning by the end about the inciting incident, or the conflict, or the overall arc of the story. As far as character arc, of course Cecilia Grierson represents a stunning example of resilience and a shining model for any young girl in any era to follow, so the author shows the character arc with sublime skill.

The vignettes of things which happen in Cecilia’s life as she travels this journey from a mere student to world-renowned doctor are quite beautiful in their own slice of the story. From a doctor’s POV you see how ‘the heart is one of the toughest muscles in the body... a mosaic of cells stained in purple, fushcia, and blue’... but ‘in its essence, the heart is as fragile as a crystal vase’; and ‘tears are just an escape valve when your heart cannot hold the emotions inside’. Cecilia’s journey lets you SEE the world through her eyes – the European mimicry of the city of Buenos Aires, the engineering feat of La Tour Eiffel in Paris, the elegance of a sculpture molded by one of her dearest friends, down to the simplicity of a small dirty ball dribbling past a group of boy’s feet in a street game; you FEEL the desire she has for Jacques, for her friends, and for her first love, Lorenzo; and you can HEAR the pulsing music of the tango, or a rapturous piano concerto.

I must say, the part where Ms deFarias describes the tango is one of my favorite passages - ‘tango offers us the freedom to bypass external differences that so often separate us in daily life. The more I expose myself to the tango, the more I visualize it with inner layers, ready to be discovered, ready to be peeled off, with an unconscious rapture that eludes me’. I was hoping beyond hope that the author was going to explore this vein more to represent the relationship Cecilia had with Lorenzo. The thread was there in their relationship, the back and forth, the yes and no, but something left me feeling a bit shallow as regards this avenue of the story, nothing like a true tango. Again, after mulling over the entire book, I can see where the author was wanting to go, what she was trying to accomplish, but the saturation of poetry and life lessons drowned Cecilia’s story.

However, that being said, Ms deFarias has a beautiful mind and the way she conveys her message and Cecilia’s story is worthy of a read. Cecilia says it best when she says ‘we can all be guilty of subjectivity and somehow bias of heart or mind when telling stories, inflating our own capacities, painting bygone troubles a little bit more daunting, perhaps to augment our triumphs, maybe just to impress a given audience. But deep inside, we know who we are. We know our stories, our battles, our struggles, our victories. And she had to be proud of that selfless victory... In the midst of grief, the cycle of life always offers us renewed hope and joy... Embrace the ride.’

The real woman, Cecilia Grierson, was a remarkable barrier-breaker, and her story, as told by Ms deFarias, is a lovely immersion of story-telling and life lessons. Ms deFarias needs to be proud of this selfless victory of this novel showering a reader in the power of the four Biblical loves – Storge, Philios, Eros, and Agape – and how one book can offer us a view of the future as seen through her main character’s eyes, a renewed hope and joy. Embrace the ride – this book is highly recommended by The Historical Fiction Company!


Editorial Review by Dee Marley, HFC CEO

The Historical Fiction Company

“Standing Tall” by Debora DeFarias awarded the “Highly Recommended” Five-Star Award

August 21, 2021


There is a saying in her native country, Brazil, that "every dentist has a little bit of artistry and craziness inside." The first part must be true, at least, when speaking of Debora G. De Farias. Graduated in Dentistry from the University of Brasilia, followed by a Master's Degree in Health Sciences, she also obtained her D.D.S degree from the University of Florida, when she moved to the United States in 2001. Debora is passionate about health topics, literature and arts. She is fascinated about the true stories of unknown heroes and heroines that are part of our history.

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