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Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon (thoughts)

February 16, 2009

gabriela(This cold refuses to go away…so while I’m insulating Kleenex stock from the economic downturn, I’m just publishing the reviews I have in my draft folder. Hence the lack of Sunday Salon/Short Story Monday/anything that requires my brain to work. And I probably won’t be commenting much for the next few days-looking at the computer screen makes me dizzy. But I love y’all anyway! -Eva) I read Jorge Amado’s Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon for the Latin American challenge, because I was determined to give him a second chance. You see, last year, I read his The War of the Saints, expecting to love it. And then, well, I didn’t. But I’m happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed Gabriela!

It’s set in the 1920s, in the Brazilian province of Ilheus. And while Gabriela and her story is certainly a part of the book, it’s kind of like a miniature War and Peace or Les Miserablesin that it has a broad lens and deals with social issues as well as individual character’s lives. Ilheus is also the name of the province’s capital, which is the main character of the book. Ilheus is torn between two forces: the conservative colonels, who are wealthy from plantations they carved out of the wilderness with violence, and educated, city-dwelling new-comers who want to bring Progress to the town. So there’s the story of politics and machinations involved there.

The book also closely scrutinises relationships between women and men. Until this time, it’s pretty much accepted that women are at the mercy of men’s whims. Amado doesn’t shrink from painting portraits of the boredom and drudgery of wives (even of the rich men), the precarious positions of the mistresses, the virtual slavery of daughters, the hypocrisy of acceptable behavior of men vs. women. The book opens with a colonel shooting his wife and her lover, an action seen as entirely justified-indeed required-by the townspeople. But as the book goes along, there are instances of women fighting back, trying to create their own lives, or at least have some rights. Here’s the most powerful passage addressing that, in which the daughter of a colonel reflects on her mother:

Her only privilege was to keep the house, and her only solace was the church. Melk had all the rights, made all the decisions, frequented the cabarets and brothels, spent money on women and gambled and drank with his friends in the hotels and bars, while his wife withered away in the house, haggard and meek, compliant in every way, without a will of her own. She had no control even over her daughter. While still a child, Malvina had sworn her life would be different. She would not be dominated.

I really enjoyed these themes, and I thought Amado explored them with intelligence and grace. But themes can’t be the only focus of a great novel, and Amado also delivers the more personal side. Gabriela herself is a kind of ‘fool’ character; we meet her wandering about with no possessions, and she has an innocence of mind that’s free from society’s morals and expectations. As one character says,

“There’s something unique about Gabriela. Take what happened at the New Year’s ball, for example. Who was it that drew everybody out into the street and started them dancing? I believe she has the kind of magic that causes revolutions and promotes great discoveries. There’s nothing I enjoy more than to observe Gabriela in the midst of a group of people. Do you know what she reminds me of? A fragrant rose in a bouquet of artificial flowers.”

She’s a very loveable character, so I always had to keep reading to find out what happened to her. There was quite a group of other key characters as well; too many to list here, but Amado made them all seem very real, and I was certainly curious about the destinies of all of them. The plot is slow-moving, and focused on domestic details, but Amado deftly weaves many threads together.

The setting is great too; Brazil was an intrinsic part of the story, which is always important to me when I’m reading international fiction! The religion, the food, the weather…Amado includes all the little details that really bring the country to life for the reader.

The writing style was interesting; it almost had a classical story-telling ring to it. The narrator also has a dry sense of humour, which quite amused me! I really liked that each of the four parts begins with a poem dedicated one of the women characters. They’re all short, limited to a page, but very evocative. Here’s part of my favourite, about Gabriela:

Oh, Sultan, what have you done
With my blithesome girl?
She wanted only fields,
To gather flowers.
She wanted just a glass,
To see her face.
She wanted only sun,
To feel its warmth.
She wanted only moonlight,
To lie in its beams.
She wanted just to love
And to be loved.

So, this novel is delightful and one I recommend!

Notable Passage
How could anyone think that a young and beautiful woman deserved death for having deceived an old and brutal man, incapable of a caress, of a tender word? This Ilheus, this land of his, was far from being really civilized. There was a lot of talk about progress; money flowed freely; the cacao built roads, established settlements, changed the face of the city. But the backward old customs remained unchanged. Nacib did not have the courage to say such things aloud-only Mundinho Falcao would dare to do that-but at this melancholy hour of falling shadows he was thinking, and a sadness came over him. He was tired.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2009 6:35 am

    I love the title of the book. Great review! I hope you’re back to normal soon.

  2. February 16, 2009 6:41 am

    Aw, I hope you feel better soon. With Debi on a blogging break, Chris enjoying Mardi Gras and you with a cold, it’ll be a sad blogging week for me. I’ll miss you all!

    Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed this book so much. I know some of the story from watching a TV adaptation when I was little, but I only remember it dimly. And I had no idea the book dealt with gender relationships! I’m looking forward to reading it even more now.

  3. February 16, 2009 8:28 am

    Okay, now I have to read Amado! As you enjoyed this one, you might like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, esp. 100 Years of Solitude. Your “notable passage” with its description of what the cacao brought to town reminds me of what happens to the village of Macondo when the banana company arrives.

    Feel better!

  4. February 16, 2009 8:28 am

    This book sounds really interesting. I’ve never heard of the author before (the book blogging world really is fantastic for this kind of thing!), but I’m definitely intrigued. I will have to keep my eyes peeled for this one (but will potentially avoid The War of the Saints). Thanks for the great review!

  5. February 16, 2009 8:55 am

    Sounds a great book, I really have to get started reading for the Latin challenge – would be embarassing not to complete my own challenge.
    Hope you feel better soon x

  6. February 16, 2009 11:03 am

    I’ve not read a lot of South American lit, but this sounds intriguing. Hope you feel better soon!

  7. February 16, 2009 12:21 pm

    Feel better soon!

  8. February 16, 2009 12:58 pm

    Nice review.

  9. February 16, 2009 2:44 pm

    This sounds like one for the wish list. Great review!

    Feel better soon!

  10. February 16, 2009 3:50 pm

    K, I think I’m going to have to try this one out! And I’m in love with the cover!

  11. February 16, 2009 5:32 pm

    Loved your review…wish I could write like that when I’m sick!!

  12. February 16, 2009 6:03 pm

    Somehow, this review reminds me of “Like Water For Chocolate.” It sounds so intriguing…I like escaping my American life into another culture.

  13. February 16, 2009 6:45 pm

    Feel better soon! This review got me interested in this book. It sounds a little like The House of the Spirits, which I did enjoy.

  14. February 17, 2009 7:29 am

    A lovely review – hope you feel better soon. :)

  15. February 17, 2009 11:13 am

    Love the title and the book sounds wonderful. I’ve not read any Jorge Amado novels – I know I’ve got one somewhere in the stacks though.

    Hope you feel much better soon!

  16. February 17, 2009 12:31 pm

    I love Latino lit and this one sounds wonderful. The title is also lovely. Going on my TBR.. thanks, Eva! Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  17. February 17, 2009 7:35 pm

    Hope you feel better soon! I’ve been meaning to read Amado for years. I will put this one on hold at the library! Thanks, Eva.

  18. February 18, 2009 7:15 am

    BermudaOnion, thanks!

    Nymeth, aww-I’ll try to get back. I feel a little better now. :) That’s neat there was a TV adaptation.

    DS, I do really like Marquez-thanks for the rec! :D

    Steph, I’m still not sure why I didn’t love The War of the Saints…maybe my expectations were too high!

    Katrina, lol-I STILL haven’t published a review for the challenge I’m hosting. I’ve got one written, at least. :)

    Priscilla, thanks for the good wishes! I’m not widely read in Latin American lit, but I enjoy it when I do read it. :)

    Meg89, thanks!

    Sherry, thank you. :)

    Megan, thanks!

    Chris, isn’t the cover great? That’s not the one I have (I got my copy at last year’s library sale), but I thought it was prettier in the google image search, lol.

    Staci, aww-thanks. I actually wrote this a week or two ago when I was healthy. ;)

    Bellezza, it’s not quite as intimate as Like Water for Chocolate. And it doesn’t have the magical realism…but it’s definitely concerned with things like love and honour.

    Kim, thank you! I’d say the same thing about it’s comparison to The House of Spirits as I did about Like Water for Chocolae above. :)

    Care, thank you. :D

    Iliana, isn’t the title great?

    Claire, hope you enjoy it! :)

    Gavin, thanks!


  1. Exploration: Latin American Challenge Wrap Up « A Striped Armchair
  2. Travel by Books: 2009 Wrap-Up « A Striped Armchair
  3. WorldGeo Journal - Jorge Amado

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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