pt | en
Graphic design
Elisa Cardoso/ Máquina Estúdio
Cover image
Marcel Gautherot
21.00 x 14.00 cm, 320 pp.
ISBN 9788535912906
Tent of Miracles
Novel, 1969 | Afterword by João José Reis
     It is 1968, and the arrival of the Nobel Laureate James Levenson in Salvador causes commotion in the local press. The American writer has come in search of four books that document the formation of the people of Bahia, written by one Pedro Archanjo. We jump back to the beginning of the 20th Century, to the prime of said poor, mulatto, bohemian, womanizing Archanjo.
     In his youth, Archanjo met Lídio Corró, a “miracle scribe” who joined his fight against racial and religious prejudice. The Tent of Miracles on the Pelourinho, where the friends worked, also served as a venue for Candomblé and Angolan capoeira. Add the chapbooks of folk literature and other books written by Archanjo and printed on the Tent’s own press, and the place was something of an open university of popular culture.
     As a janitor at the Bahia Medical Faculty, Archanjo was inspired by contact with the lecturers and started to study the history of the Bahian people. But his theories, which valorized miscegenation, awoke the ire of Professor Nilo Argolo, for whom the mestizos were “degenerates”.
     In Tent of Miracles, Jorge Amado pits Archanjo’s ideas against those of Argola in a celebration of miscegenation, folk traditions and Negro culture. The novel attacks the colonized posture of accepting the early 20th-century European racial theories and takes a swipe at the tardy appreciation of the Negro intellectual, whose work is only recognized on the initiative of a foreigner.
     The narrative deftly interweaves erudite and popular styles. The criticism of the repression of Candomblé and other manifestations of Negro culture comes to life on two historical fronts: the early 20th Century, during Pedro Archanjo’s lifetime, and the historical context in which the book was published, during the military regime.
     Published in October 1969, Tent of Miracles was written between March and July that same year. The author’s favourite work, the novel returns to themes already announced in earlier tales, especially in Jubiabá, the novel whose main character is Antônio Balduíno, a Negro leader from a poor background, just like Pedro Archanjo, the protagonist of Tent of Miracles.
     The intellectual trajectory of the Negro Pedro Archanjo personifies Brazilian ethnic and cultural formation and fuses with the struggle of the people of Bahia to preserve their popular traditions. Archanjo defends miscegenation, fights against racism and values the racial mix of his culture. This blend also features in the language of the novel, which incorporates Afro-Brazilian terms and rhythms.
     In his memoir,Coasting, Jorge Amado tells us that the character of Pedro Archanjo was based on elements taken from a number of personalities, such as the writer Manuel Quiríno, the obá Miguel Aré, the composer Dorival Cayammi and Jorge Amado himself. “Archanjo has a piece of all of them; some singularity, a preference, tone of voice, taste in food, way with women, craftiness”, says the author.
     For the anthropologist Ilana Seltzer Goldstein, Tent of Miracles can be considered a paradigmatic Jorge Amado novel insofar as it encompasses all of the most important themes in the writer’s work, such as the oppositions between miscegenation and racism, high-brow and low-brow culture, political activism and comedy of manners. This was the first of Jorge Amado’s novels to be rendered into French by Alice Raillard, who would go on to translate a further ten volumes by the author and write the book Conversando com Jorge Amado (Conversing with Jorge Amado), based on a series of interviews she conducted with him, The novel was also translated into roughly a dozen other languages.
     Nelson Pereira dos Santos started work on a cinema adaptation of Tent of Miracles in 1974, based on a pirate copy of the book sold at newsstands. The error was discovered thanks to Jorge Amado’s close accompaniment of the script. The film was released in 1977. In 1985,Tent of Miracles was made into a mini-series for Rede Globo, written by Aguinaldo Silva and Regina Braga.
     Archanjo went off to see the world. Wherever he went he found something to learn. He was not choosy about the work he did — cabin boy, bar man, mason’s helper, penner of letters to be sent to remote corners of Portugal with news and saudades from slow-witted immigrants. Wherever he went he was always surrounded by books and women. Why did they find him so attractive? Perhaps it was his innate delicacy and his way with words. But it was not only women who succumbed to his charm: when he was still a very young man, everyone listened in attentive silence to whatever he had to say.
     When he came back from Rio he was twenty-one years old, with a foppish taste in dress and a light hand on the guitar and the cavaquinho. He got himself a job at the Friars’ Printing Plant, and one night several months later he found Lídio Corró rehearsing the shepherdesses at the Epiphany dance festival, an enviable occupation. The two became inseparable friends, and little by little the barber shop was transformd into the Tent of Miracles.

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