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The Discovery of America by the Turks by Jorge Amado (thoughts)

June 3, 2013

Discovery of America by the Turks
Oh Jorge Amado. I’ve so much enjoyed some of your other books, and you’re Brazilian, and you’re all about magical realism and you incorporate awesome religious beliefs into that, so why on earth did you have to write a book like The Discovery of America by the Turks? And you wrote it in 1994, so you don’t even have ‘but that’s how people used to think’ as an excuse.

As you can guess from the above paragraph, I didn’t get on terribly well with this novella. Despite its lively tone and intriguing setting, I just couldn’t get past the “Taming of the Shrew”-esque plot and characters. The story revolves around a ‘dried up,’ ugly ‘old’ (maybe in her late twenties, early thirties?) maid, the eldest of three sisters and the only one still unmarried, whose religious fervor is making her father miserable, because she tells him he’s wrong to visit whorehouses and gamble. The poor, poor father realises his only hope is to somehow get his daughter married off, because after all if a woman has moral principles and isn’t afraid to talk about them, she must just be in need of a good lay. Or a good beating. Preferably both, so the father sets out to find a husband adept at screwing and hitting women.

Seriously. I am not exaggerating; I’m actually toning the language down compared to Amado’s. And it just kills me that a book brimming with a lively, playful tone and gentle sense of the ridiculous that should make me fall in love with it instead has such a horrendous viewpoint. Perhaps it’s all tongue-in-cheek, and I’m simply the missing the joke. But I’m a fairly adept reader, and Amado never once drops the mask or gives any kind of indication that he disagrees with the plot’s premise. So even if he did mean it as a satire, it could just as easily be read as a straight-up endorsement of some deeply disturbing views on gender relations. I’m willing to extend a bit of the benefit of the doubt here, since I’ve read two of his other novels (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon and The War of the Saints) and neither seemed to possess an above-average machismo sense to it. So I’ll be reading more of him, with a sharp eye out for gender issues. And satire or not, I can’t say, as a contented single woman who possesses principles and speaks up for them, that I’d recommend The Discovery of America by the Turks.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. dastevensish permalink
    June 3, 2013 3:37 pm

    You. Are. Awesome. Love this post!

    • June 3, 2013 8:52 pm

      lol! Glad something good came out of it! If the book had been any longer, I probably would’ve abandoned it.

  2. June 3, 2013 3:45 pm

    Sounds awful. And it’s not that we have no sense of humor if we don’t think they are funny when they are simply being abusive.

    • June 3, 2013 8:51 pm

      Definitely! I only referenced humour in the sense of satire, but considering that I love British comedies, I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss satire here.

  3. June 3, 2013 6:35 pm

    Eh, I wasn’t in love with the way women were portrayed in Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon either, to be honest. But this sounds so much worse! I am going to go watch that video of Patrick Stewart condemning domestic violence again until I feel less cross.

    • June 3, 2013 8:51 pm

      Yes, I wasn’t in love w it either. But it didn’t strike me as horrible in the Latin American male author continuum either, if that makes sense. Certainly not enough to prepare me for this nonsense!

      Also, have you found a Latin American male author who does portray women in a way you love? I find if I don’t ‘make allowances,’ I probably wouldn’t read any of them, and most of the ones I try I never read again because they make me too cranky. Garcia Marquez is the best of the ones I’ve read.

  4. June 3, 2013 9:38 pm

    Hm, I think I’ll give this one a wide berth. Excellent review, though! I always think it’s important to point out when a book has a sexist/racist/homophobic/what-have-you POV, even though it can be a sticky issue to bring up. I had my own conundrum over Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her, which had a very misogynistic main character. It was tricky to bring up in a review because I know many other reviewers have no issue with that book, but it was the main reason I disliked it and felt I needed to articulate that somehow.

    So, to sum up, thank you for writing such an honest, thoughtful review.

    • June 4, 2013 7:11 am

      I’ve never read Diaz, but it is difficult to talk about. I’m always shocked when I read glowing reviews of books I find blatantly, horrendously discriminatory in some way. I’ve read some truly excellent books w sexist/racist/etc. characters, even main narrating characters, but somehow the authors subtly made it clear that the characters’ beliefs were wrong. That’s so key, isn’t it?

  5. June 4, 2013 6:36 am

    Hmmm, it’s been a while since I read Jorge Amado (and I certainly haven’t read this particular one), but I remembered him as quite fun, imaginative, not too macho – as you say, within the Latin American context. I think ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is a really difficult concept to sell nowadays. See this article about recent staging of it by the Royal Shakespeare Company

    • June 4, 2013 7:04 am

      I think you’d be surprised at the difference between this one and his other books. I also found that article you linked to deeply disturbing, personally. I can perhaps see the argument that “look at how horribly men are allowed to, arguably even encouraged to, treat women,” I’m not familiar enough w the Shakespeare play to judge, but the rest of the justifications sounded like battered wife or Stockholm syndrome. He tortures her because he loves her? And he suffers as much as she does? Really? And he gives her a voice at the end, w which she can happily educate other women on how to be subservient, which is somehow empowering? I’m not convinced.

      Anyway, this book was definitely not portraying the vulnerability of women in a patriarchal, mysogynistic society. It was a “poor men, having to hear the harangues of a woman, please dear god someone screw her til she shuts up. And if that doesn’t work, beat her into silence. I will pay anyone willing to do so.” And at no point do the tables turn: in fact, she ends up a happily beaten and screwed woman, no longer concerned with her father’s immoralities.

      ETA: I would also say that a more subtle, tamed down version of “Taming of the Screw” is actually still a popular modern plot. Look at movies like Knocked Up or The Proposal or any Jack Nicholson movie in which he has a romance. They all seem to be about successful, beautiful, independent women who have to be taken down a few pegs before they can “find love.” And I’m hard-pressed to think of the reverse plot line, in which a handsome, successful man finds romance with a less attractive, less conventionally successful woman who points out all of his flaws for most of the movie.

  6. June 8, 2013 6:05 pm

    I’ve read several of his (Captains of the Sands is my favorite, together with Tieta), but a long time ago, when my book diet was exclusively Portuguese. I wonder if there was machismo in the ones I’ve read. Back then I wasn’t really attuned to it.

  7. June 9, 2013 6:27 am

    I m getting this when it comes out in uk next month ,I loved Dona Flor by him only other book by him I have read ,all the best stu

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