Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the mid-1920’s, the Brazilian provinces are suffering under the political, social, and economic dominance of the coroneis. These “colonels,” who run the local organization of both major political parties unchallenged, who dictate at whim all manners and morals, and who hold, often by violence, the huge estates that supply the money upon which all provincial life depends, are the direct administrators of a feudal society. They rule vast territories through a complicated system of allegiances built upon favors, kinship, and power. In the country around Ilhéus, a seacoast town in the province of Bahia, the grip of the colonels, given sinews by a boom in the international market for cacao, remains anachronistically strong. A challenge comes to that feudal order, as represented by the colonels, in the person of Mundinho Falcão, a rich, energetic, progress-minded young man from Rio de Janeiro.
Unlike most of the colonels, who are self-made men, Falcão is the son of an illustrious family whose influence extends into the highest reaches of the national government. He exiles himself from the high life of Rio de Janeiro for three reasons: to make his own fortune, to forget a woman, and to accomplish needed social reforms. One of the colonels recently murdered his wife and her lover. The fact that she had a lover at all reveals some cracks in the old order. That no effort is made at first to punish the colonel, in observance of the region’s unwritten law, indicates that, for the time being at least, the old order survives as an effective force.
Meanwhile, Nacib Saad, a fat, gentle Brazilian from Syria and the owner of the Vesuvius...
(The entire section is 681 words.)