Elisa Cardoso/ Máquina Estúdio
|21.00 x 14.00 cm, 424 pp.
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon
Novel, 1958 | Afterword by José Paulo Paes
Gabriela arrives in Ilhéus from the hinterlands in 1935, in search of work. Camped at the “slave market” with all the other itinerants, she is taken in by the Arab Nacib. At first, the owner of the bar Vesuvio does not notice the beauty of the girl hidden under all the rags and dust, but he soon discovers her cinnamon skin and scent of cloves. Before long, all the men in town have succumbed to Gabriela’s charms.
Gabriela takes over the bar kitchen, where the flavour of her cooking and her inebriating presence keep the Vesuvio packed to the rafters. For the jealous Nacib, who has fallen in love with her, the only solution is to marry. As a wife, Gabriela finds herself with obligations unsuited to her free and rustic spirit, but she refuses to be tamed, and when Nacib catches her in bed with Tonico Bastos, he has their marriage annulled. Even so, Gabriela will find her way back to the kitchen and into Nacib’s bed.
Besides the love story of the Arab Nacib and the bushgirl Gabriela, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is also a chronicle of the height of the cocoa boom in the region of Ilhéus. Though ostensibly a comedy of manners, the novel describes some deep-set changes in the social life of Bahia in the 1920s: the opening of the port to large tankers leads to the rise of the Rio-based exporter Mundinho Falcão and to the decline of the local colonels, like Ramiro Bastos. It is Gabriela who personifies the transformations worked upon this patriarchal, archaic and authoritarian society by the winds of cultural, political and economic change.
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon inaugurates a new phase in the work of Jorge Amado. From this novel onwards, the author will tone down the political content that marked his earlier works and begin to accentuate racial miscegenation, eroticism and a sensorial perception of the world. Female characters gain precedence, with women assuming the narrative core as sexual myths, but also as agents of desire itself.
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon was Jorge Amado’s first novel after leaving the Communist party. Published in 1958, the novel received the Machado de Assis and Jabuti awards the following year. Soon afterwards, in 1961, Jorge Amado was elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters, largely on the crest of the thunderous success of this book. Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon was made into a soap-opera for TV Tupi in 1961 and again by Rede Globo in 1975. With versions in over thirty languages, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is Jorge Amado’s most widely translated work.
Nacib, panting from the climb, inserted the key in the lock. The light was on in the front room. Was it a burglar? Or had his new servant forgotten to turn off the light?
He entered quietly and saw her asleep in a chair, smiling. Her long black hair, now washed and combed, fell loose and wavy over her shoulders. Her clothes were ragged but clean; they must have been in her bundle. A tear in her skirt revealed an expanse of cinnamon-brown thigh. Her breasts rose and fell softly in rhythm with her breathing.
“My God!” Nacib stood still, incredulous.
He marveled that such beauty could have been hidden under the dust. Asleep there in the chair — her shapely arm fallen, a smile on her brown face — she looked like a painting. How old might she be? She had the body of a young woman, the face of a little girl.
“My God, what have I got here!” murmured the Arab almost devoutly.
At the sound of his voice, she awoke, startled; but then she smiled, and the whole room seemed to smile. She jumped up and straightened her rags with her hands, simple and bright as a bit of moonlight.