21.00 x 14.00 cm, 288 pp. ISBN 9788535911824 35,00
Sea of Death Novel, 1936 | Afterword by Ana Maria Machado
The life of the sailors on the quays of Salvador, steeped in the rich mythology surrounding the goddess Iemanjá, is the central theme of Sea of Death, a lyrical and tragic portrayal of the workers’ daily struggle for survival. Characters like the young boat’s captain Guma are veritable prisoners of a fate drawn for them over generations: the men sail out to a sea that will one day take them, dragging them down to Iemanjá and to the legendary underworld of Aiocá, as their women wait in resignation on the quays. The day the fishermen don’t come back, all that will be left to them is poverty or prostitution. Lívia, the beloved who battles in vain to lure Guma from the call of the sea, will play a pioneering role in freeing women from this rut. The dramas of various vivid characters unfold around the story of Lívia and Guma: the Negro Rufino and his flighty mulatto lover Esmeralda; old Francisco, Guma’s uncle, who has been mending nets since losing his sea-legs; the brave and foul-mouthed Rosa Palmeirão, with a dagger on her chest and switchblade in her skirt. It is with great lyricism that Jorge Amado narrates this daily toil under the ever-present risk of death. In Sea of Death, the men and women of the quays of Bahia live each day as if it were their last. Passion and graft, instinct and survival produce a tragic mix.
Illustration by Osvaldo Goeldi
Published in 1936, Sea of Death is the fruit of an invitation received during difficult times. It was in that year that Jorge Amada was jailed for the first time, on charges of involvement in a communist conspiracy. The writer was arrested in Rio de Janeiro and spent the next two months behind bars. On his release, he was invited by the publisher José Olympio to produce a new novel. Sea of Death was begun in Gamboa de Cima, a borough in Salvador, and completed in Rio de Janeiro. The novel won the Graça Aranha award from the Brazilian Academy of Letters that same year. Jorge Amado’s fifth novel, it is one of his most poetically-charged narratives. According to the critic Fábio Lucas, the novel’s poetic prose was to become a hallmark of the author’s work henceforth, albeit “sometimes exaggerated, sometimes restrained”. The book was Dorival Cayammi’s inspiration for one of his biggest hits, with the oft-repeated motto “How sweet it is to die in the sea” providing the composition’s core theme. Upon its release, an enthused Mário de Andrade wrote to Jorge Amado claiming that Sea of Death had made the Bahian writer a “doctor of the novel”. In the 1940s, Rádio Nacional, in Rio de Janeiro, and Rádio El Mundo, in Buenos Aires, produced a radio soap based on the novel. In 1960, the story was adapted to comic book format, and in 2002, the Globo TV network took the novel as its mould for the soap-opera Porto dos Milagres.
Judith is sobbing in the bedroom. It’s the fate of all those women. The men from dockside only have one path in life: the path of the sea. They follow it. it’s their fate. The sea owns all of them. From the sea comes all joy and all sadness because the sea is a mystery that not even the oldest sailors understand, not even those ancient masters of sloops who don’t sail anymore and only mend sails and tell stories. Who has ever deciphered the mystery of the sea? From the sea comes music, love, death. And isn’t it over the sea that the moon is the most beautiful? The sea is unstable. The life of the men of the sloops is like it. Who among them has ever had a fate to live like that of men of the land, who dandle grandchildren and gather families together for lunch and dinner? None of them walks with that firm step of a man of the land. Each one has something at the bottom of the sea: a son, a brother, an arm, a sloop that capsized, a sail that the windstorm tore apart. But. also, who among them doesn’t know how to sing those songs of love on dockside nights0 Who among them doesn’t know how to make love with violence and softness? Because every time they sing and love it could well be the last.