Authors: Jorge Amado

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Brazilian novelist

Biography

Jorge Amado (uh-MAH-doo) was Brazil’s most popular twentieth century novelist. He was born in the municipality of Itabuna in the cacao region of southern Bahia. His father was a cacao planter who lost his first plantation in a flood in 1914 but later was sufficiently successful in the business to send his son to boarding schools, first in the state capital of Salvador and later in the (then) national capital, Rio de Janeiro. Amado was not a good student–though he liked to read and write–but he eventually managed to complete a law degree, the diploma for which he never bothered to claim. By the time he had completed his studies, in fact, he had already worked as a reporter, joined a bohemian group called the Academy of Rebels, and published two novels.{$I[AN]9810001359}{$I[A]Amado, Jorge}{$I[geo]BRAZIL;Amado, Jorge}{$I[tim]1912;Amado, Jorge}

In his second novel, Amado abandoned the rather pretentious intellectualism of his first work and turned to his memories of life on the cacao plantation as the basis for his fiction. In his third, he portrayed urban slum dwellers in the city of Salvador. These two locales, the lawless frontier of the cacao planters and the milieu of the lower social strata of Brazil’s oldest city, are particularly important to Amado’s canon. His first novels are neither pleasant memories of a childhood gone by nor picturesque glimpses of colorful folk–Amado was clearly an angry young man, a fact the Brazilian government recognized several times in the 1930’s by burning his books in public and sending their author to jail and even into exile. Amado returned to Brazil in 1945 at the end of the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas. In that same year, he married Zélia Gattai, with whom he would have two children. He was also elected to the Brazilian Congress that year, running on the ticket of the Brazilian Communist Party.

The Party operated openly and legally only for a brief period, however, and within two years Amado was again in exile, first in Paris and later in Prague, where his daughter Paloma was born. In 1951, he won the Stalin Peace Prize. Amado’s leftist sympathies were largely undisguised in the early works, which display increasing skill in evoking scene and sentiment and progressively more elaborate narrative structures. His political commitment reached its peak in the trilogy Os subterrâneos da liberdade (the freedom underground), a work of considerable narrative skill whose art is diluted by a tendentious quality which many readers found irritating. The first volume of the work was published in 1954, when Amado returned to Brazil from his exile.

In 1958, he published Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, which many critics considered a watershed work in his canon. It is a convoluted and dramatic narrative that not only lacks but also undermines the righteous tone of some of the earlier works. It purports to be no more than a “chronicle of a town in the interior,” and its narrator appears to be as bemused by the goings-on as many readers are likely to be. This work marks the beginning of the quintessential Amado, a gifted narrative craftsman with a keen eye and a finely tuned ear who could turn the minor triumphs and traumas of Brazil’s lower social registers into something that might be called high comic melodrama.

Certain features of this “new” Amado were present in even the earliest works, but Amado’s novels published after 1958 are all essentially comic. They are also all set either in the state of Bahia or in the city of Salvador, whose magical quality Amado exploits in the manner New Orleans writers exploit the special character of their city. Bahia is not only Brazil’s oldest city, it is also the most African–and it is tropical. The setting means that the scene is exotic even to most Brazilians, and Amado takes full advantage of the otherness implicit in that fact to fashion stories that could have taken place only in such surroundings. Many of his later novels feature direct intervention in events by African deities.

Although the overt political element seems largely absent from the later novels, the ethical bent of the later works is expressed in terms of hostility to propriety and contempt for the establishment. Earlier Amadian heroes and heroines were angry rebels and innocent victims–the later ones are rather more like gleeful subversives. In Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, the heroine manages to find happiness by having two husbands–one of them is dead, to be sure, but he nevertheless remains remarkably lusty after death. In Tieta, the Goat Girl, yet another heroine (heroines outnumber heroes in these works) uses money earned in prostitution to save the ecosystem and sagging economy of her hometown, providing lessons on life and love along the way.

After 1952, Amado lived in a charming but unpretentious house in Salvador. He did much of his writing in the homes of friends elsewhere in Brazil and in Portugal, however, because his residence became a tourist attraction. Brazil’s most prolific writer of best-sellers, he also became something of a rarity in Brazilian society in another sense: He was a writer who lived by writing alone. In 1961, Amado was seated in the Brazilian Academy of Letters. He died in 2001 just before his eighty-ninth birthday.

Amado was sometimes criticized for being too facile a writer, for his blatant leftism, for his fondness for amoral or even immoral acts and characters, and even for being racist and sexist. Not much of this criticism stands up to close scrutiny, however, and some seems inspired solely by the belief that anybody who sells so many books cannot be worth much as a writer. No author in Brazil offers a serious challenge to his popularity at home, and his works in translation have sold well (and at times spectacularly) in the forty-odd languages in which they are available. This success may indicate that a well-wrought narrative, whatever malice it may express toward political or moral convention, has appeal to a broad segment of the international reading public. No Brazilian writer of the twentieth century did as much to give new life to the concept of the pleasure of the text, and few writers of any nationality rival him as an original and productive fabulist.

BibliographyBrookshaw, David. Race and Color in Brazilian Literature. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1986. Brookshaw detects racial stereotyping and prejudice in Amado’s characterization of blacks in Jubiabá; Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon; and Tent of Miracles. Includes a bibliography.Brower, Keith H., Earl E. Fitz, and Enrique Martínez-Vidal, eds. Jorge Amado: New Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2001. In addition to analyses of specific novels, including Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, this collection features a comparison of the work of Amado and John Steinbeck and a description of a visit to Pennsylvania State University that Amado and his wife made in 1971.Chamberlain, Bobby J. Jorge Amado. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Provides excellent and detailed analysis of Amado’s later works of fiction. Discusses Amado as a writer, social critic, and politician and places his works within their social, political, and historical context. Concluding chapter discusses the author’s contradictory status as a man of letters and a literary hack. Includes biographical information, chronology, and bibliography.Dineen, Mark. “Change Versus Continuity: Popular Culture in the Novels of Jorge Amado.” In Fiction in the Portuguese-Speaking World: Essays in Memory of Alexandre Pinheiro Torres, edited by Charles M. Kelley. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000. Examination of Amado’s novels is presented within a collection of sixteen essays that analyze major fiction writers from Portugal, Brazil, and Portuguese-speaking Africa.Lowe, Elizabeth. The City in Brazilian Literature. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982. Characterizes Amado’s depiction of Salvador, Bahia, as “picturesque exoticism” and his portrayal of the urban poor as “carnivalization.” Includes bibliography and index.Patai, Daphne. Myth and Ideology in Contemporary Brazilian Fiction. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983. Chapter 5 presents a critique of Amado’s Tereza Batista, which Patai believes undercuts itself ideologically. Criticizes Amado for his use of the supernatural, for his use of humor (which she feels trivializes social injustice), and for what Patai regards as his patronizing view of the poor. Argues that Amado’s work blurs the distinction between history and fiction. Includes bibliography.Pescatello, Ann. “The Brazileira: Images and Realities in the Writings of Machado de Assis and Jorge Amado.” In Female and Male in Latin America: Essays, edited by Ann Pescatello. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973. Compares and contrasts female characters in several of Amado’s major novels with those of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. Detects a preoccupation with race and class in both writers’ female characterizations. Includes a bibliography.Richardson, Daniel C. “Towards Faulkner’s Presence in Brazil: Race, History, and Place in Faulkner and Amado.” South Atlantic Review 65, no. 4 (2000): 13-27. Argues that previous studies have traced William Faulkner’s literary presence in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America while ignoring his reception in Brazil and addresses this absence by comparing Faulkner’s work to that of Amado.Viera, Nelson A. “Testimonial Fiction and Historical Allegory: Racial and Political Repression in Jorge Amado’s Brazil.” Latin American Literary Review 17 (July-December, 1989): 6-23. Discusses racial and political oppression in Amado’s fiction.Wyles, Joyce Gregory. “Boundless Love and Death in Bahia.” Americas 54, no. 1 (January/February, 2002): 22. Biographical article discusses Amado’s life and death in Bahia, some of his novels, the impact of Salvador, Bahia, on the characters in his fiction, his style of writing, and the plots and themes of his books.
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