Gabriela, Clove And Cinnamon: A Must-Read Novel
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I'm planning to eat a moqueca today, a typical Brazilian dish consisting of salt water fish stew in coconut milk, onions, garlic, tomatoes, coriander and palm oil from Bahia. This will be my way of celebrating having finished the delicious novel Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Brazilian writer Jorge Amado.
Despite the fact that much of our literature is not very well known outside the borders of Brazil, chances are that readers will have heard of Amado and his homeland, Bahia. He is one of our most popular writers of the 20th century, and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages throughout the world.
Many of his works have been transformed into Brazilian soap operas, miniseries, and movies, but, of course, the experience of watching Amado either on the big or small screen does not compare to the much deeper pleasure of embarking on the deliciously funny, poetic and all-encompassing canvas of his writing.
Jorge Amado treats the reader with a wealth of unforgettable characters from the lowest to the highest echelons of the provincial cities of northeastern of Brazil, who intermingle via a network of politics, friendships, romance and violence.
Gabriela, the novel, is a dream-like account filled with humor, poetry, and cultural information. As a Brazilian, it felt great to be transported to the Ilheus (a town on the coast of Bahia) in the first decades of last century, when the cacao business was booming, changing the town and its customs at a pace never seen before. Progress was threatening the lifestyle and status quo of the first farmers and their families who had seized huge expanses of land, aided by their armed jagunços, (bodyguards) using violence and murder in constant ambushes against their opponents. But times were now changing, with the arrival of technology and forward-thinking businessmen, who came to these backward towns attracted by the riches generated by the cacao.
Jorge Amado delivers his prose in a light, funny and detached, ironic tone, yet showing great warmth and understanding towards his characters. He depicts prostitutes, rich farmers, that he calls “colonels”, their jagunços, churchgoing and gossipy spinsters, lonely concubines, small time businessmen, and pseudo-intellectuals, against the backdrop of the geography and culture of the small provincial cities of the early decades of the 20th century. His prose will stay with you for a long time once you finish the book, such is its power and universality.
Moreover, Gabriela is a very sensual text, filled with the colors, smells, and tastes of Bahia. It’s a book that celebrates life and the liberation of minds, especially women’s, from the colonial chains and obsolete traditions of a male-dominated society. It’s a radical hymn against machismo, opening up doors to the possibility of freedom.
Gabriela, the protagonist, represents the essence of Brazilianness, in her beauty, simplicity, lightheartedness and pleasure for life. Of course, both the main characters in Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, another famous Amado novel, are deeply associated in our minds with the Brazilian actress Sônia Braga, who portrayed them both in famous movies and soap operas during the 1970s. Although I was too young at the time to fully enjoy them, this doesn't prevent me from putting the face of Ms. Braga to the wild Gabriela of the pages of the novel. After all, Sônia Braga was an icon of Brazilian sexuality and beauty in her day.
Jorge Amado is a pleasure to read. His stories will make a deep impression on you and will expand your awareness of Brazilian culture. I strongly recommend them.