Pen, Sword, Camisole

When Colonel Pereira, the Chief of National Security and a Nazi sympathizer, declares his candidacy for the academy’s seat vacated by the death of a celebrated poet, Antonio Bruno, everybody is shocked. Yet who would dare to oppose the ruthless colonel? Two energetic academicians, however, find such a man in General Moreira, a vain, third-rate author who is nevertheless more acceptable than the “jailer of writers,” Pereira. The plotting academicians use intrigue, deception, and even the charms of Bruno’s former mistresses to eliminate the Fascist colonel, while the colonel’s supporters retaliate in vain. When General Moreira turns into an obnoxious despot even before he is elected, his previous supporters wage a second unscrupulous and successful campaign.

Besides making fun of the politicking surrounding the election to the academy, which becomes tedious at times, the novel offers convincing glimpses of the Brazilian totalitarian state of the time and the characters’ ingenious opposition to it. Above all, however, this is a celebration of a zest for life, the power of poetry (the poet’s pen is his sword) and the power of love. These themes are developed mainly through the character of the deceased poet, who comes vibrantly alive in the memories of his former mistresses. Other characters, unfortunately, are mostly insufficiently realized and remain mere caricatures.

Amado, Brazil’s most celebrated novelist and a great storyteller, is primarily known for his spirited characters of lower-class origins and the spellbinding Brazilian atmosphere of his works. While this novel does not equal his best works, such as DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS (1969), its playful charm, the verve with which it is told, and the optimism it radiates make it delightful reading.