21.00 x 14.00 cm, 368 pp. ISBN 9788535915716 49,00
Red Field Novel, 1946 | Afterword by Nelson Pereira dos Santos
The lands on which Jerônimo and Jacundina have worked in the northeastern backlands for twenty years change hands, and the new owner expels the settlers. Jerônimo and his wife decide to try their luck on the coffee plantations in São Paulo. The whole family heads for the bushland trail: the couple; their two children, Agostinho and Marta; three grandchildren, Tonho, Noca and Ernesto; and two of Jerônimo’s brothers and their respective families. Red Field is a novel about the struggle of the displaced for decent conditions and a place to lay their heads after the daily slog for survival. As they make their way through the scrubland, the travellers suffer from a lack of food and the harshness of the landscape. Half-starved and scorched by the searing desert sun, they finally reach Juazeiro, on the banks of the São Francisco River, from which they will continue their journey by boat. The penury of the northeast is presented here as not just the result of drought, but of the agrarian exploitation that forces the bushlanders to leave their homes and head for São Paulo in search of better days. Those who choose to remain on the arid hinterland plains, like Jerônimo and Jacundina’s other three children, try to get by as best they can. João, or Jão, becomes a soldier, José, or Zé Trevoada, becomes a hired gunman, and Juvêncio – Neném - joins the Communist Party. As such, Red Field points to the different alternatives, some more extreme than others, that are open to the people of the backlands: pack up and leave, go into religion or crime, or take up the revolutionary struggle through social activism.
Illustration by Carlos Scliar
Jorge Amado published Red Field in 1946, a year after being elected federal deputy for São Paulo through the Brazilian Communist Party. His election was some recompense for a particularly difficult period: the years of intense political activism, censorship and persecution by the Estado Novo (1937-45) regime. Having been imprisoned twice, once in 1936 and again in 1937, Jorge Amado started campaigning for the rights of political prisoners accused of being communists. He wrote The ABC of Castro Alves, the biography of the Bahian poet, before going into exile in Uruguay and Argentina, where he researched the life of the revolutionary leader Luís Carlos Prestes. Red Field is dedicated to Prestes and its epigraphs include snippets of verse by Castro Alves and a quotation from Prestes himself. The novel’s political charge is highly accentuated, a feature typical of the first phase of the author’s work, but there is an important change in setting. The action does not take place in the city of Bahia or in the Ilhéus-Itabuna axis on the cocoa coast, rather the hinterlands become the chosen stage for the mismatched and often bloody disputes between landowners and land workers. The novel was completed in June 1946 at the author’s home in Novo Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro. In 1963 Red Field was adapted for cinema by Proa Filmes, directed by Alberto d’Aversa, with script and dialogue by Jorge Amado and D’Aversa, and music by João Gilberto.
The settlers laid off from the farm were scattered along the bushland roads. They were all headed south, in search of the country of São Paulo. Many others had gone before them. The recruiters that came by the farms used to tell them all sorts of stories, things to make your head spin. They said that no-one was poor in São Paulo, where they planted and harvested coffee. A worker that went down there was a landowner in just a few of years, became a colonel, a man with political clout. That’s what they said, and there was always someone who believed it, despite all those who came back even poorer than they had been when they left. It was that same route, those same trails through the brush, that Jerônimo and his brother João Pedro now took with their families. Dinah, João Pedro’s wife, who was very superstitious, counted the people and the animals in their ragged caravan: - Jesus, Mary n’ Joseph… Thirteen lives… She, her husband and their daughter, Gertrudes, fifteen to sixteen years old, squat nose.