Jorge Amado 1912–
Brazilian novelist, short story writer, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Amado's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 13 and 40.
Jorge Amado is a best-selling author known for his novels which evoke the spirit of the people of Bahia, Brazil. A communist in an authoritarian-ruled nation, Amado spent many years fleeing government persecution and espousing communist ideals in his novels. Eventually Amado became disenchanted with the Communist Party and wrote from a more personal perspective about his region and its people. He became a well-loved national and much-acclaimed international novelist.
Amado was born in Ilheus, Bahia, Brazil, on August 10, 1912. He grew up on his father's cocoa plantation and then attended a Jesuit boarding school. While interested in classical literature, Amado found it hard to concentrate on his studies. In 1930 Amado went to Rio de Janeiro to attend law school, where he earned a diploma which he never bothered to pick up. Amado published his first novel, O paiz do carnaval (1931), when he was nineteen. His second novel, Cacau (1933), made evident his political leanings and interest in the newly formed Brazilian Communist Party. The neofascist government headed by Getulio Vargas ordered that the book be removed from bookstores. Amado became a member of the National Liberation Alliance, a left-leaning political group which attempted a coup in 1935. Shortly after the coup failed, Amado was arrested and spent two months in jail. His adversarial relationship with the Brazilian government continued, and in 1937 the government staged a public book burning in which the majority of books destroyed were Amado's. Amado eventually fled to Argentina in 1941 and wrote a biography of the founder of the Brazilian Communist Party, Luiz Carlos Prestes, entitled Vida de Luiz Carlos Prestes, o cavaleiro da esperança (1942). He returned to Brazil, and his struggle with the government continued until Vargas was ousted from office. In 1945 Amado was elected federal deputy of São Paulo on the Communist Party ticket. Within a few years, however, the Party again became illegal, and in 1948 Amado decided to leave his country. He lived in France and Czechoslovakia for the next four years, then returned to Brazil again in 1952. After Joseph Stalin's death there was much debate over the future and ideological position of the Brazilian Communist Party. In 1955 Amado left the party, and from then on his relationship with communism was ambiguous. His writing underwent a significant change, becoming less political and more universally recognized by critics. During the fall of 1971 Amado came to America as a visiting fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies at Pennsylvania State University.
Amado began his career trying to expose the problems of the northeast region of Brazil, specifically of his home state, Bahia. The works were more political in nature, but beginning with Gabriela, cravo e canela (1958; Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon) his work turned more personal, focusing on specific people and how life in Bahia affected their individual lives. Amado's protagonists are antiheroes, often coming from the lower class and including whores and rogues. Amado's work is full of mystical elements: statues that come to life and walk away, as in O sumiça da santa (1988; The War of the Saints); a protagonist who dies more than once, as in A morte e a morte de Quincas Berro Dágua (1962); and a dead husband returning, as in Dona Flor e seus dois maridos (1966; Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands). Amado's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is about a woman who falls in love with a rogue. He is passionate and exciting but hurts her with his wild exploits. When her husband dies, Dona Flor mourns but then goes on to remarry. This time her husband is respectable, responsible, and dull. While she knows her second husband is good for her, Dona Flor misses the passion her first love inspired in her. The first husband's spirit returns to her, and at first she resists him. Eventually she discovers happiness with the best of both husbands. The mystical nature of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands resurfaces in The War of the Saints, in which the statue of Saint Barbara of the Thunder comes to life and simply walks away to tend to her people.
Reviewers usually discuss Amado's career as having two phases, marked by the shift in Amado's career away from political-oriented works. Leftist critics ignore his later novels, but most reviewers agree the change was for the better. James Polk asserts, "His first works were embittered, pedantic tracts, weighted with social squalor and class struggle, resolved by a simplistic and highly romanticized brand of communism." Many critics have pointed out the importance of Bahian cultural forms in Amado's fiction, such as his use of the candomblé religious ritual and the Brazilian martial art capoeira in many of his stories. In addition they refer to his borrowing from Bahian's popular literary press, the folhetos, or songbooks. Reviewers often point out the mystical quality of his work and praise his ability to make supernatural events seem ordinary. Many reviewers call Amado a regionalist, but a few point to the general truths present in Amado's work and the popular appeal of his fiction. Amado is known for his strong female characters. A few critics mention his almost feminist views being in strong opposition to traditional Brazilian machismo. However Amado has been accused of inconsistency in his views. His public statements on sexism and racism in Brazil have sometimes conflicted with his presentation of those problems in his novels. Complaints about characterization range from assertions that portraying intimate or unspoken thoughts is not Amado's forte to charges that his characters are underdeveloped. Some reviewers have accused Amado of being a pornographer, but critics generally dismiss this label. Critical assessment of Amado's fiction is mixed. Some critics assert that he is a master storyteller with a great ability to evoke the images and soul of his native region. Others accuse him of being a hack, simply a writer of popular formulaic novels that lack any literary merit. Jon S. Vincent states, "Amado is anything but a simple spinner of yarns. His later novels are deceptively sophisticated fictions by a writer with a perfect ear for the right word, a flawless sense of dramatic and comic pace, and a keen sensibility for narrative pattern."