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Last Reviewed on June 2, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

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...

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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.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 681

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 Bar, loses his cook, whose appetizers and tidbits had largely accounted for his considerable success. Fortunately for him, however, a continuing drought in the backlands brings a steady stream of homeless migrants to Ilhéus looking for work. Nacib is becoming desperate when he discovers among them Gabriela, whose cinnamon-colored skin and scent of clove enhance her equal and prodigious talents for cooking food and making love. Gabriela represents a way of life that is older and more essentially Brazilian than any of the ways represented by either the colonels or Falcão. She embodies the idea of convivência—of varied and mingling races and classes mutually dissolving and living together in harmony and absolute democracy—that was a Brazilian tradition and ideal.

Falcão seeks to operate on the body of society, rechanneling its old systems into new ones, but Gabriela unconsciously operates upon its soul. Every man in town adores her and few of the women are jealous. When election time arrives, the colonels find their influence whittled away to the vanishing point. In a last attempt to save their ascendancy, the more reactionary of them attempts to arrange the assassination of a powerful political chief who defected to Falcão. The attempt fails, and Falcão’s forces of reform are swept into office, not without his privately acknowledging, however, that his promised reforms are only temporary and have to lead to even greater changes.

Nacib’s attempt to transform Gabriela into a married and respectably shod little bourgeoise ends in the discovery that her love is as naturally democratic as her ancestry. She has slept with any man in Ilhéus lucky enough to be handsome. As her husband, poor Nacib is shocked, but not for long. Gabriela still loves him, and he learns, too, in the course of a short estrangement that was disastrous for the business of the Vesuvius Bar, that he likewise still loves her. Wild and free, the mulatto woman is as unregimentable as she is desirable, as indomitable as she is beautiful. She finds herself no longer his unhappy wife but once again established as Nacib’s happy cook and mistress. All other factions—the colonels’ and Falcão’s—are reunited in freedom to celebrate new prosperity and progress for Ilhéus. The colonel who shot his wife is sent, as testimony to a new reign of law, to prison.

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