For a glimpse into Brazilian culture from a literary perspective, you can’t go wrong with reading the works of Brazil’s best-selling author, Jorge Amado. He published 32 books that were translated into 48 languages and is best known for his three novels, Captain of the Sands, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. Born in Bahia in 1912, his works were greatly influenced by the contrasting rich and poor divisions of society that he grew up with. Here are 12 of Amado’s best books.
Capturing the colorful culture of Bahia through vivid descriptions, the book is about a group of young runaways and orphans who coin their gang ‘Captains of the Sand’ and survive through daring acts of stealing, begging and gambling against Salvador’s elite. However, before long, the residents grow tired of their criminal ways and put pressure on the authorities to capture them, putting the future of these 100 or more children in jeopardy.
One of Amado’s most popular books for its intriguing and exotic storyline, the book tells of a conflict in a town in Bahia when a colonel kills his wife and her lover when he catches them in bed together. Much to the surprise of the residents, it’s a migrant worker that looks set to be the catalyst of change yet first, the worker falls for Gabriela, a beautiful, charming local that is also a great cook and the girl he wants to marry.
An evocative, comical account set in Bahia that tells the story of Dona Flor who throws herself into her cooking school after her gambling husband, Vadinho, dies during Carnival. Her friends, concerned that she will remain single and lonely, encourage her to meet someone else and remarry. Soon she meets a friendly pharmacist, the opposite character of her late husband, and before long she marries him. Yet Dona Flor never truly forgets Vadinho and his memory becomes real when he shows up one night filled with lust at the side of her bed.
A dark yet witty story, this absorbing novel is about Joaquim Soares da Cunha, a model citizen who, after retirement, gets up and leaves everything behind and becomes Quincas, a gambler and a drunk. His death soon after is just the beginning as he returns not as Joaquim but as Quincas who still lives a vibrant life, despite being dead.
To get a feel for the vibrant atmosphere of Carnival in Bahia, The War of the Saints is an ideal read as it paints a vivid picture of this universally known event. The story centers on Saint Barbara, a holy icon that comes to life when arriving at the dock in a city in Bahia. As she touches the city with her magic and helps a young love-stricken girl who is locked up by her aunt, the residents’ lives in this Bahian town begin to change.
Like many of Amado’s books, the story contains references to lust and sexual desire yet without being overly explicit. The story intertwines the arrival of two Turks in Bahia with the tall of Adma, a girl whose parents try marrying her off as she is considered physically unattractive and moody. There are plenty of descriptions of visits to local brothels where the men can satisfy their desires.
The tale weaves concepts of greed, murder and lust as two families fight over securing more land in the northeast of Brazil to build cocoa plantations. The land is won through violence and trickery, aided by the use of gunmen, and before long, workers face terrible conditions there as they try to make quick and easy money. The story is peppered with colorful descriptions of corruption, prostitution and political conflicts, creating an absorbing read that vividly paints the landscapes of Bahia.
Tent of Miracles is filled with rich descriptions of Brazilian culture, vivid imagery of Bahia and accurate accounts of real-life prejudices against black Brazilians. The story is based on the main characters Pedra Archanjo that starts with his birth and leads the reader to when he ages and becomes a novelist. One of the fascinating themes in the book is the accounts of macumba, a religion in Brazil that has strong African roots.
The main character is Tieta, a wealthy woman who locals believe is the widow of a distinguished businessman when in fact her fortune was made as the owner of a brothel in Sao Paulo. She returns to Bahia – beautifully described as a picturesque paradise – and starts to campaign against the construction of a titanium dioxide factory near the city.
The story focuses on the main character, Tereza, who has a complex life including being sold as a slave by her aunt, being jailed for defending her deceitful lover, and a beautiful girl who captures the imaginations and hearts of several men. She can samba and leaves admiration and lustful desire in the people she encounters.
One of Amado’s earlier novels, Sea of Death is set in the docks of Bahia and tells the stories of the sailors that work there and their day-to-day lives including love, lust and struggles for survival. There are also references to the goddess of Iemanja, a water deity from the Candomblé religion, a set of beliefs that are common in Salvador and other parts of Bahia.
Set in Periperi, a small coastal town in the northeast of Brazil, Home is the Sailor tells the tale of Captain Vasco Moscoso de Arago, a recently retired sailor who arrives at the town and enchants people with his stories of daring sailor antics and passionate romances. However, a rival researches his past and discovers he never had the experiences that he claimed to have had. Yet just as his rival is about to unveil the truth, Vasco is called to sail a ship after its prior captain is dead, offering Vasco the chance to make his stories come true.