Gabriela is a beautiful, uneducated, young mulatto girl who, escaping the droughts in the Bahian backlands, walks into the town of Ilhéus in the 1920’s in search of a better life. She is hired as a cook by Nacib Saad, the Syrian owner of a bar named Vesuvius, and her cooking skills and her beauty soon make the bar a major attraction. Nacib and Gabriela become lovers, and Nacib soon marries this girl of the cinnamon-colored skin who always smells of cloves. Nacib’s attempts to make Gabriela a respectable, middle-class wife fail, however, and he soon finds the sexually free Gabriela in the bed of another. He does not kill her, however, as Brazilian tradition at the time suggests he do. He instead annuls the marriage and dismisses her as his cook at the bar. With the absence of Gabriela and her culinary delights, business at the bar quickly falls off, and Nacib, too, realizes that he still loves Gabriela. At the end of the novel, he has taken her back both as his cook and, this time, as his mistress.
The story of Gabriela and Nacib is but the foreground of this novel. Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is, above all, about social, political, and attitudinal change in a small Brazilian town during the 1920’s. Much of the novel centers on the efforts of a young, Rio de Janeiro-born businessman named Mundinho Falcão to bring social and economic progress and political reform to Ilhéus and the local old guard’s efforts, including an assassination...
(The entire section is 418 words.)