Jorge Amado during construction of the house in Rio Vermelho
The house in Rio Vermelho and life between Salvador and Paris
Jorge Amado sold the film rights to Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1961 and used the money to build a house where he and his family would live from 1963 on. The house on Rua Alagoinhas in the Rio Vermelho borough of Salvador doubled as a kind of cultural centre. In addition to housing a large collection of popular art, Jorge Amado and Zélia Gattai used their home to receive fellow artists and intellectuals, not to mention unknown admirers from various parts of Brazil and abroad.
In 1983, Jorge and Zélia started spending half the year in Paris, half in Bahia. In Europe, the author was recognized and celebrated as one of Brazil’s greatest novelists. He used his charming apartment in the Marais neighbourhood, a far more tranquil and less bustling place than his home in Salvador, as his writerly refuge.
During the 1980s, Jorge Amado wrote his childhood memoir, The Grapiuna Boy, and the novel Showdown, two books that returned to the cocoa coast that had so marked his early career. During this period he also penned The War of the Saints. In 1987, the Jorge Amado Estate Foundation was inaugurated, with headquarters in a reformed manor on the Pelourinho. The Foundation keeps a collection of works on the author that includes theses, essays and other academic texts, press articles, tributes and letters.
Writing Coasting, the notes on the wall organized the chapters of the book
The final years
In the late 90s, as he put the finishing touches to the memoir Coasting, published to coincide with his 80th birthday, Jorge Amado was working on Bóris, o vermelho (Boris, the Red), a novel he never managed to complete. In 1992 he was invited by an Italian company to write a story for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas. The result was the novella How the Turks Discovered America, published in Brazil in 1994.
During the 1990s, the author’s daughter, Paloma, in conjunction with Pedro Costa, revised the complete works in order to correct errors that had accumulated over the years and the various editions of the works. In 1995, Jorge Amado received the Camőes Award, one of the highest literary honours in the Portuguese language.
In 1996, Jorge Amado suffered a pulmonary oedema whilst in Paris. He returned to Brazil, where he underwent an angioplasty, followed by repose at his house in Rio Vermelho. His clinical condition was further aggravated by partial blindness, which caused the author to sink into a depression, as he could no longer read or write.
The author died in August 2001, only days before his 89th birthday. His body was cremated and the ashes buried among the roots of an old mango tree in the garden of his home, next to a white bench on which he used to sit with Zélia in the afternoons.
Ceremony of acceptance into the Brazilian Academy of Letters
Consecration and the rejection of glory
Over the decades, Jorge Amado’s novels were translated and published in over fifty different countries. His characters have lent their names to streets, commercial establishments and brand names. The writer was the theme of samba school processions at Carnival, frequented capoeira rings, became involved in environmental issues and had his stories retold by popular troubadours of cordel poetry.
In addition to the recognition that came with the robes of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, the writer received honorary doctorates from European universities and countless tributes throughout his lifetime. Yet of all the accolades, what really meant most to him were the titles conferred within candomblé.
It is no accident that the writer chose the orisha Exu, drawn for him by his friend Carybé, as his personal blazon. Exu is a figure from Yoruba mythology that symbolizes movement and passage and is associated with transgression and limits. This choice of emblem reveals both his affiliations with the popular miscegenated culture of Bahia and the value he attributed to the art of transiting between social universes and different cultures.
Despite his friendship with such illustrious figures as Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa, Oscar Niemeyer, Darcy Ribeiro and Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and the wide-ranging recognition of his work, Jorge Amado always refused pomp and the aggrandizement of his personal life and career. In Coasting, he says: “I learned from the people and from life, I’m a writer, not a literary luminary, in fact, I’m an Obá (orisha of turbulent waters and of war)”. Further on, he adds: “I wasn’t born to be famous, or illustrious. I don’t measure myself by those sticks, I never felt like an important writer, an important man: just a writer and a man”.