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