Amado, Jorge: 1912-2001: Brazilian Novelist
Jorge Amado: 1912-2001: Brazilian novelist
"The hero of my novels is the Brazilian people," said novelist Jorge Amado in an interview quoted in the Los Angeles Times. Amado's 32 novels honored the lives of ordinary Brazilians, especially those in Amado's home state of Bahia, with sweeping historical novels and, later in his life, with humorous, lusty romantic tales that found popular success at home as well as a growing international reader-ship. Amado was sometimes known in Brazil as the Pele of the written word—high praise in a country where soccer is much more than a national pastime.
Born on August 10, 1912, near Ilhéus, in southern Bahia, Amado grew up in comfortable circumstances on a cocoa plantation, but witnessed something of the violent events that shaped the modern nation of Brazil. His lifelong sympathy for Brazil's working people grew out of his experiences harvesting cocoa beans side by side with them as a youngster. In his childhood he saw land wars, akin to those of the U.S. West, and during one clash his father survived an assassination attempt. Amado's family was devastated by a massive flood that swallowed up their farm, and after a subsequent smallpox epidemic his parents were forced to begin making shoes for a living.
Early Works Were Political
Amado's family scraped together enough money to send their son to a boarding school in the Bahian capital city of Salvador, and there Amado was exposed to the classics of European literature. Indeed, he would one day be hailed as the Balzac of Brazil, after the French novelist who combined detailed social realism with an ebullient storytelling spirit. Another set of influences came from the north; as a child, Amado often enjoyed U.S. western films at a theater owned by a friend of his father. Brazilian director Nelson Pereira dos Santos pointed out to Variety that "Amado was strongly influenced by modern U.S. writers, who were in turn influenced by film." The director added, "He's a son of Steinbeck." Amado also professed admiration for nineteenth-century novelists Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, both masters of satire who commanded a strong popular readership.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Amado worked as a reporter and spent time with other aspiring writers in Salvador. Prodded by his father to enter law school in Rio de Janeiro, he became increasingly radicalized politically. Although he finished his law school course-work in 1935, he refused to accept his diploma. By that time he had written several novels set among Bahia's farm workers and urban slum dwellers. One of them, Jubiabá, introduced another important strain of Amado's work in its depiction of Afro-Brazilian religious life. In the late 1930s Amado traveled to Mexico and the United States, becoming acquainted with leftist cultural figures in both countries, among them African-American actor Paul Robeson. Amado became involved with Brazil's Communist Party, and served in Brazil's national legislature as a Communist deputy after World War II.
At a Glance . . .
Born on August 10, 1912, in Ilhéus, Bahia, Brazil; died on August 6, 2001, in Salvador, Brazil; son of João Amado de Faria (a plantation owner) and Eulalia Leal Amado; married Matilde García Rosa, 1933 (divorced 1944); married Zelia Gallai, 1945; children: João Jorge, Paloma. Education: Federal University of Río de Janeiro, law degree, 1935.
Career: Writer, 1930-2001; Brazilian parliament, Communist Party deputy, 1946-48.
Amado's early novels were sometimes criticized as clunky pieces of political propaganda that showed little attention to characterization or plot. However, they irritated Brazil's power structure sufficiently for dictator Getúlio Vargas to order a public burning of his books in 1937 and to throw Amado in prison for three months. Capitães da areia, published in 1937, took up the cause of Bahia's homeless children, and 1943's Terras do sem fim was an epic tale of the cocoa-farm land wars in the midst of which Amado had grown up. The book drew heavily on family recollections to create a vivid cast of characters, all in the grip of the mix of money and violence that characterized Brazil's frontier.
For a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Amado was an honored cultural figure in the Communist world. After another rightward swing in Brazil, he traveled widely in both Eastern and Western Europe in 1948 and 1949, and in 1950 he moved his family to Czechoslovakia. He received the Stalin Peace Prize in Moscow in 1951, and several of his novels of this period had the flavor of heavy political tracts. Like many other Western leftists, however, Amado was dismayed by the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1956 and by the repression endemic to the Communist system. Furthermore, Amado simply tired of politics and became newly enamored of storytelling. According to the Los Angeles Times, Amado said, "I made the decision to quit being a member of any political party, and decided to be a writer."
Discovered True Subversion Comes Through Laughter
The first fruit of Amado's new attitude was 1958's Gabriela, cravo e canela. This work, set in Amado's hometown of Ilhéus, tells the story of an impoverished but beautiful woman from the countryside who is hired as a cook by a Syrian-born tavernkeeper, who then makes her his bride. This gentleman's efforts to shape his wife into a proper model of middle-class femininity fail hilariously as she is later discovered in the arms of her husband's friend. Broad comedy, class-based satire, and sex—all elements that were present but relegated to the background in Amado's earlier works—pervade this novel and its wildly successful successor, Dona Flor e seus dois maridos, which was published in 1966. Dona Flor wove menus and recipes throughout a sexy, satirical, and humorous narrative.
Dona Flor e seus dois maridos and Gabriela, cravo e canela were both made into films starring Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, and each later became a top-rated Brazilian television miniseries. "Jorge Amado's work seduces filmmakers," Nelson Pereira dos Santos told Variety. "All his works are so rich in characters and stories." Several other Amado novels were filmed or made into television series and soap operas, and by the 1980s the onetime exile was something of a national bard, loved by ordinary Brazilians as well as by followers of literature.
Amado remained extremely productive into his old age. A 1984 novel, Tocaia grande, returned to the frontier violence of the writer's youth. He lived to see his books translated into nearly 50 languages. Some younger writers criticized Amado for what they saw as insufficiently serious portrayals of the lives of black Brazilians and Brazilian women, but Amado was quoted by the London Independent as saying that "I came to feel that true subversion comes through laughter and the release it brings; that's one of the most effective ways to deny an oppressor his power over you." Amado died in Salvador, where he had lived for many years, on August 6, 2001.
(With others) Lenita, Coelho Branco Filho, 1930.
Jubiabá, J. Olympio, 1935; translated into English, Avon, 1984.
Capitães da areia, J. Olympio, 1937; translated as Captains of the Sands, Avon, 1988.
Terras do sem fim, Martins, 1942; translated as The Violent Land, Knopf, 1945.
Os subterrâaneos da liberdade, 3 vols., Martins, 1954.
Gabriela, cravo e canela, Martins, 1958; translated as Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, Knopf, 1962.
Os velhos marinheiros, two stories, Martins, 1961; translated as Home Is the Sailor, Knopf, 1964.
Dona Flor e seus dois maridos, Martins, 1966; translated as Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Knopf, 1969.
Tieta do Agresta: Pastora de cabras, Editora Record, 1977; translated as Tieta the Goat Girl, Knopf, 1979.
Tocaia grande, Editora Record, 1984; translated as Showdown, Bantam, 1988.
A descoberta da America pelos turcos, Editora Record, 1994.
Chamberlain, Bobby, Jorge Amado, Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Luis, William, ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography, First Series, Volume 113 (Modern Latin American Fiction Writers), Gale, 1992.
Independent (London, England), August 8, 2001, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2001, p. B10.
New York Times, August 7, 2001, p. B7.
Variety, March 31, 1997, p. 56.
Washington Post, August 26, 2001, p. T5.
Contemporary Authors Online, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (March 21, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
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