Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon Summary
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon interweaves a story of infatuation, estrangement, and reunion between two lovers with a narrative of political reform in the Brazilian town of Ilhéus. When Gabriela, a young, attractive migrant worker arrives in town, she is quick to find employment in the Vesuvius restaurant, owned by a respectable, middle-class individual of Syrian origin by the name of Nacib Saad. Saad is delighted with Gabriela, whose skill as a chef proves very beneficial to his restaurant. Soon, they fall in love.
Gabriela, though she does agree to marry Saad, has no intention of becoming the upstanding bourgeois wife he had wanted, continuing her sexual exploits with the men of Ilhéus beyond their marriage, a fact which Saad soon discovers. Rather than taking the course of violence against his wife as tradition dictates, the restaurant owner fires her from his restaurant and banishes her from his life, though both he and his restaurant suffer greatly without her. He eventually agrees to employ her once more and to enter into a more casual relationship with her, given that both individuals still have genuine affection for one another.
As the story of Saad and Gabriela is unfolding, a political struggle is being waged by a young, ambitious aristocrat from the capital, Mundinho Falcão, against the Bastos family, whose influence as planters of the lucrative cacao crop has enabled them to establish an iron grip on regional politics for a number of years. Mundinho Falcão earns accreditation for a local school and engages workers to improve local infrastructure, thus earning the affection of the townspeople. Though he faces determined, even violent opposition from the Bastos, he is ultimately able to win political victory and begin to push through the reforms he had planned.
A meaningful parallel is drawn between the conclusions of the two stories when a local planter by the name of Jesuino Mendonca, who has recently murdered his wife for the crime of being unfaithful, is punished for his actions. In Jesuino’s conviction, Saad’s defiance of tradition is given justification and legitimacy in law.
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 attempt on one of Falcão’s supporters, to combat such changes. Change clearly wins in the novel, however, as Falcão’s side wins in the local elections, and a powerful local planter, a colonel, whose murder of his unfaithful wife and her lover opens the novel, is sent to prison for his crime, something that would not have happened in the old Brazil. Even Nacib’s annulment of his marriage with...
(The entire section is 1,449 words.)