Saturday, June 04, 2011


Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, Jorge Amado, Alfred A Knopf, 1962 (translation), Livraria Martins Editora, 1958

This novel was Brazilian author Jorge Amado's breakout novel in his native country. It is a light-hearted love story as well as a political commentary, set in Amado's hometown of Ilheus. In the mid 1920s, the town is booming due to a rapidly expanding cacao business and bumper crops. The community is achieving a more settled respectability compared to the wild days of land grabbing and establishing of the cacao plantations, related in Amado's earlier novels, The Violent Land and The Golden Harvest. Upheaval in this book is mainly political as newcomers attempt to win positions in the town.

Meanwhile, Nacib, Arab owner of the most popular cafe in town, finds himself a new cook down in the slave market. Gabriela is magical with herbs and spices as well as beautiful and voluptuous. She becomes the symbol in the story of the changing mores of a town and a time period.

Due to an extremely long list of characters and a lengthy set up, I had quite a time getting going. Finally about halfway in (approximately 200 pages) I felt familiar enough with the almost 20 main characters to get involved with them and care about their exploits. Then I was hooked. What I came out the story with was that the amazing amount of change at that time in South America was comparable to the changes in North America and Europe.

South American fiction did not enter the United States in English translation until the mid 1960s and early 1970s. It was not taught in my high school or college days. The image I had of South America when I was growing up consisted of jungles, poverty, drugs and local revolutions. It is revelatory to read authors such as Amado, Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Lhosa, and discover a lively but much differently flavored literature concerning the peoples of these countries moving into 20th century life.

I have found it worth wading through all the characters and a different style of writing, not to mention that most of these books are translated from Portuguese and Spanish. Amado was sent to boarding school where he discovered Dickens, Balzac and Sir Walter Scott, which explains much about the way he wrote his early novels.

Part of the reasoning behind My Big Fat Reading Project is to give myself an education in literature, so I get excited to see these developments in writers and books that are now better known around the world. I can observe the cross currents of literature with their accompanying effects on history and change by reading tales of what it was like for people in those countries and gain a much better understanding of the world I live in. By the end of Gabriela, I felt a connection with them that would only be improved by visiting there myself. If Gabriela were still cooking in Ilheus, I would go!

(Gabriela, Cinnamon and Cloves is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. Here I am again, Judy...My luggage unpacked! Now, I'm ready to relax a bit ;-)
    OH WOW! Your review is just perfect it captured perfectly well the novel.

    1. Thank you! I am thrilled to know you like these novels as well.