Taking the Helm (“Leme”) is the autofictional story of a toxic relationship. In her literary debut, Sá Fernandes deals with the domestic violence she herself experienced as a child at the hands of her stepfather Paulo. He moves in with her and her mother when Madalena is just six years old, and he dominates the lives of the two women for twelve years with his controlling behaviour and outbursts of rage. The aggression is directed above all against her mother, who does not succeed in freeing herself from this relationship for a long time. For Madalena this is hard to bear, she experiences the undermining of the pillars that sustain human relationships and the distortion of the roles of parents and children. She has no choice but to settle into loneliness to overcome her fear and anger, to find a place for herself in the family chaos, and to find comfort in small victories in everyday life.
Later, when she herself was already in danger of repeating her mother’s behavioural patterns in her own relationship, she manages to free herself from this downward spiral. After Paulo’s death, Madalena revisits those years in images of her memories, and she writes to free herself from her stepfather for good. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after the separation, which was then treated with medication. Sá Fernandes succeeds in creating a sensitive portrait of a dysfunctional family, an almost astonished look from a child’s perspective at the absurdity and grotesqueness of what happened. This book is a moment of literary glory and a powerful act of self-empowerment to find one’s own way back into life.