Amado published his first novel in 1931; Tieta, the Goat Girl was his nineteenth. He became a best-selling author in the first decade of his career, but not until the 1960’s was he generally recognized as a writer at the peak of his form, master of an inimitable style. Critics have chided him for being too facile or too ideological, and some have even called him racist or sexist, but such criticism seems irrelevant to novels in which the reading experience is something akin to listening to a witty and engaging blabbermouth recount a convoluted yarn about a town in which he might once have lived. Much of the negative criticism of his works is based on the fact that he was for many years a member of the Communist Party and that some of his early novels make that affiliation transparent. Yet he has never been an ideologue, and even if his novels consistently belittle the Brazilian bourgeoisie for its flaws, his faithful readers are not deterred, though most are members of that class.
There are no competitors to his commercial success in Brazil, and his works have been translated into more than forty languages, enjoying sometimes spectacular sales abroad. Since he has won practically every literary prize worth winning in Brazil, his massive and enthusiastic public has made him a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize, and every new novel is a best-seller within days of release.
Part of Jorge Amado’s popularity stems from his ability to portray Brazilians as they would like to think they are—at once lusty, courageous, charming, and, above all, unfettered. Some of the appeal of the works in translation may lie in this same exotic appeal of tropical eroticism and adventure. What really makes a novel such as Tieta, the Goat Girl work is its perverse narrator, with his leisurely and digressive story, genuinely amusing, concerning people who are either what the reader suspects his next-door neighbor may truly be or people who are just sufficiently larger than life to charm and beguile.