Sometimes real happiness can only be found through a radical process of self reinvention. It takes a considerable amount of courage to move to a new country on your own, leave behind everything that’s been familiar or change your name to become another person. “Sergio Y” is powerful novel about how some people aren’t able to really be themselves or fulfil their potential within the family, community or even the body that they were born into. It’s about the extensive lengths some must go to and the hardships they must endure to fully inhabit the life they were meant to live. This novel is also a compelling mystery whose story becomes more and more intriguing with every new bit of information its obsessive narrator tracks down.
There can be something really powerful in a good tale told in a simple direct prose style. “Sergio Y” is narrated in short sections by a seventy year old therapist named Armando about incidents surrounding his client Sergio Yacoubian. Armando boasts that he is one of the most respected doctors in São Paulo, but Sergio's case haunted him for many years and became something of an obsession. Sergio came to see him as a teenager troubled by a sadness he didn't understand. After months of sessions in which they discussed his life, particularly his great-grandfather's emigration to Brazil where he escaped the massacres which occurred during the Turkish war in the early 20th century, Sergio alighted upon a path towards happiness. He moved to New York City and went through the process of transitioning from male to female. However, Armando wasn’t aware of the fact Sergio was transgendered when he treated him. Consumed with guilt about a case he didn’t fully understand, Armando investigates what happened to Sandra by speaking to her family, American therapist and her troubled neighbour. Gradually he comes to a better understanding of what it means to seek real happiness in life.
Although this novel has a deeply tragic element to it, it’s admirable how Porto makes of the story something ultimately hopeful. He shows that strength of will and determination can triumph over circumstance. Here he movingly describes the state of mind required to initiate radical change: "Many manage to improve on the first drafts of the lives they are given. But for that they need the courage to jump off a diving board fifty meters high, blindfolded, not knowing if it is water or asphalt that awaits them below." This novel is also a sympathetic and refreshing portrait a transgender individual. Even though I read about an equally compelling transgender character in Jenni Fagan’s recent novel "The Sunlight Pilgrims" it still feels as if dynamic and interesting characters that were born with the wrong gender don’t often appear in many books. I would love to see more novels where transgender characters appear where their transition isn't necessarily treated as an "issue" but a simple fact. This is something I believe "Sergio Y" somewhat achieves because Sandra herself doesn't struggle with her transition process; it's the doctor who must come to terms with it. It was a great pleasure reading this emotional and fascinating new novel.