As the novel begins, it is the first Sunday of Carnival in Bahia, and Waldomiro Guimarães, known by everyone as Vadinho, husband of Dona Flor, has just died while dancing the samba, dressed as a woman, with a large cassava tuber tied under his skirt. With this beginning, Amado introduces the reader to a rollicking, bawdy world inhabited, it seems at times, by the entire population of Brazil.
The novel is divided into five parts, each part chronicling a segment of Dona Flor’s life, the first dealing with Vadinho’s death, wake, and burial, and the stirring of Dona Flor’s fears of life without her husband. The wake is a great success, with people streaming in and out to pay their respects; everyone, it seems—from politicians to members of the exalted professions and the inhabitants of gambling parlors and houses of ill repute—has a story to tell of Vadinho and his deeds. Yet if Vadinho’s wake is a success, it pales in comparison to his burial procession. In the opinion of one observer, it seems as if half the population of Bahia is there, more than any of the Carnival parades draws—proof, if any is needed, that Vadinho, gambler, rascal, and unfaithful husband that he was, knew how to make friends.
For Dona Flor this is small solace. With Vadinho’s burial, the reality of his absence becomes more pronounced, and Dona Flor struggles through a period of deep mourning. Through flashbacks (and certain pertinent digressions by the author), her life as a young girl, her whirlwind courtship, and her subsequent marriage to Vadinho is recounted. The memories of her life with Vadinho haunt her at every turn. To be sure, not all of her memories are happy ones. Vadinho, being Vadinho, had carried her through life, its highs and lows, sorrows and disappointments—all of its aspects. Now, with Vadinho gone, it seems as if she lies buried with him, and only the shell of Dona Flor remains, going through the motions of living. Not until she has pushed these memories aside, plunged them deep into the bottom of her consciousness, is she able to resume her life. In a symbolic gesture at Vadinho’s grave, she lays a bouquet of flowers and at the same time buries desire,...
(The entire section is 894 words.)