Gilberto Freyre, Anísio Teixeira and Jorge Amado, in 1961
Circle of friends and the 30s Movement
Amidst the cultural effervescence of Rio de Janeiro, then the national capital, Jorge Amado developed friendships with various personalities from the worlds of politics and letters, including Raul Bopp, José Américo de Almeida, Gilberto Freyre, Carlos Lacerda, José Lins do Rego and Vinicius de Moraes.
His involvement with the so-called 1930s Movement left a deep-run formative mark on his personality and instilled a lasting concern with Brazilian problems. Jorge Amado travelled up to Maceió especially to meet Graciliano Ramos. It was also during this period that the writer Rachel de Queiroz introduced him to the egalitarian ideals of communism.
In 1934, with the publication of Sweat , his fiction took a foray into the urban reality of the decadent state capital of Salvador. Two years later, the result was Jubiabá, a novel whose main protagonist, Antônio Balduíno, was one of the first Negro heroes in Brazilian literature. At 23 years of age, Jorge Amado was gaining fame and projection, with his first international success. Published in French, Jubiabá was praised by the writer Albert Camus in an article from 1939.
Jorge Amado (third from the left) campaigning for the PCB in 1945
Attentive to the severe social inequality in the country, in 1932 Jorge Amado joined the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). Four years later he was imprisoned for the first time, in Rio de Janeiro, accused of participating in the Communist Conspiracy. The year was 1936, and upon his release Jorge Amado published one of his most lyrical works, Sea of Death, which tells the story of the master boatman Guma. This book inspired his friend Dorival Cayammi to compose the famous song “É doce morrer no mar” (Sweet it is to die at sea).
The author married Matilde Garcia Rosa in the town of Estância, Sergipe, in 1933. The couple had one daughter, Eulália Dalila Amado, born in 1935, who died suddenly at the age of fourteen.
In the mid 30s, Jorge Amado took a long journey across Brazil, Latin America and the United States, during which he wrote Captains of the Sands, 1937. Upon his return, he was imprisoned once again, this time under the suppression of political freedom that came with the institution of Getúlio Vargas’ Estado Novo regime (1937-45). More than a thousand copies of his works were burned in a public square in Salvador by the military police.
Released in 1938, the author moved from Rio to São Paulo, where he shared an apartment with the chronicler Rubem Braga. Though he moved back to Rio, he went into exile in Uruguay and Argentina during the period 1941/42, where he wrote the biography of Luís Carlos Prestes, The Knight of Hope, originally published in Spanish in Buenos Aires and banned in Brazil. Upon his return to the country he was detained for a third time, though now under house arrest in Bahia. In 1933, he penned the newspaper column “Hora da Guerra” (Wartime) in O Imparcial. That same year he published The Violent Land, his first novel published and sold after a six-year ban on his output.
Jorge and Zélia, pregnant with João Jorge, in São João de Meriti in 1947
In 1944, Jorge Amado separated from Matilde after eleven years of marriage. The following year, now in São Paulo, he led the Bahia delegation at the 1st Brazilian Writers Congress, where he met fellow author Zélia Gattai, who would become the great love of his life. In 1947, the couple had their first child, João Jorge. On his first birthday, the boy received as a present the tale The Swallow and the Tom Cat, with illustrations by the artist Carybé. Jorge Amado and Zélia also had a daughter, Paloma, born in Czechoslovakia in 1951. The couple only formally wed in 1978, by which time they were already grandparents.
In 1945, Jorge Amado was elected to the Constitutional Assembly as federal deputy for the PCB. He took office the following year and made a number of proposals that were promulgated as laws, such as a bill for the protection of freedom of religious expression. Some years later, however, the Communist Party was struck from the electoral register and Jorge Amado had his mandate revoked. He left for voluntary exile in Europe in 1948, settling in Paris, where he met the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Picasso, among other writers and artists. In 1950, Jorge Amado was expelled from France on political grounds.
The author moved to Czechoslovakia and embarked on a journey through Eastern Europe and as far afield as the Soviet Union, China and Mongolia. It was during this period that he wrote his most politically engaged novels, such as the trilogy The Bowels of Liberty , published in 1954. In 1956, after Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Jorge Amado left the PCB.
Jorge Amado and the Oxum Saint Mother Menininha do Gantois
From the end of the 50s, Jorge Amado’s work began to accentuate humour, sensuality, miscegenation and religious syncretism. Though these characteristics had not been lacking in his earlier work, they now shifted to the foreground, blended with a more nuanced political stance. Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon , written in 1958, is the measure of this sea change. However, the author preferred to say that Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon was “an affirmation, not a change of direction”.
At this time Jorge Amado was becoming increasingly interested in Afro-Brazilian ritual. In 1957 he met Mother Menininha do Gantois, and two years later received one of the highest titles in candomblé: obá Arolu do Axé Opô. That same year, Senhor magazine published the novella The Two Deaths of Quincas Wateryell, widely considered a masterpiece. The work was later republished alongside the novel O capitão-de-longo-curso (The Long-distance Captain) in the volume Home is the Sailor , 1961. Some of his best-known works soon followed, including Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, 1966, Tent of Miracles, 1969, Tereza Batista Home from the Wars, 1972 and Tieta, 1977.
This new phase in his literature also sees a shift toward female protagonists, at once sensual, strong and combative. The women conjured by Jorge Amado found their way into the popular imagination and onto the big and the small screens. In the 70s, 80s and 90s the author’s books were adapted for films and soap-operas by numerous scriptwriters and directors, such as Walter George Durst, Alberto D’Aversa, Marcel Camus, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Cacá Diegues, Bruno Barreto, Aguinaldo Silva, Luiz Fernando Carvalho, among others. The author was also the subject of documentaries by Glauber Rocha and João Moreira Salles.