Last Updated on September 6, 2023, 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 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.