The works of the 20th-century modernist Jorge Amado (1912–2001), one of the most famous Brazilian writers of the 20th century, have been read around the globe. He is particularly remembered for his books Cacao and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, as well as the screen adaptation of the latter.
Cacao and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands are also two of Amado’s most informative works, and they reflect the tone, subject, and characters found in many of the author’s other fictional pieces. Cacao was published in 1933 and inaugurated the so-called Cocoa Cycle, a series of books based on the economic and social problems found on cocoa plantations. Its first edition was sold out in little more than one month. Some critics labeled it a novel and report in one, and it was deemed “socialist literature,” causing the police to confiscate the first edition. But that did not stop the book’s momentum, and Foreign Minister Osvaldo Aranha ensured that it would be available to the public. Cacao sold out despite its shocking language and themes of the day.
This romance and the subsequent work, Sweat, clandestinely reached Portugal, where the books were banned, influencing the formation of the Portuguese neorealism movement. In fact, in a provocative introductory note to Cacao, the author declares: “I tried to describe in this book, in a minimum of literature and a maximum of honest realism, the sub-human conditions of the life of the workers of cocoa farms in Southern Bahia State. Will it be considered a proletarian romance?”
The story is entirely narrated by the character Jose Cordeiro, a middle-class young man from the Brazilian state of Sergipe who, having lost everything, looks for work in southern Bahia in the hope of getting back on his feet. He discovers that love and politics make for strange bedfellows. He finds work on the cocoa plantation owned by “Colonel” Manoel Misael de Souza Telles, a man called Mané Flagel by his employees for his questionable moral qualities. On the farm, Jose Cordeiro makes friends with some coworkers, who nickname him “The Sergipe Man,” and along with other poor workers, he experiences the plantation’s subhuman working conditions. Meanwhile, he is attracted to Maria, the colonel’s daughter. She falls in love with Jose Cordeiro, proposes marriage, and offers him an administrator’s position on her father’s farm. Cordeiro resists her, seeing her as an enemy of the working class, and leaves the farm abruptly, journeying to São Paulo, where he joins the Communist Party.
Like Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Cacao is a sociopolitical tome that is very much of the time and of the minds of the people living in politically fractured countries. It is an accurate social commentary of the lives of those in Brazil at that time, and for that reason alone Cacao remains an important work of literature. It was also the first of Amado’s books to be translated into another language, with Spanish being the first of many.
Amado, Jorge. Cacao. Translated by Estela Dos Santos. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1991.
———. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Translated by Harriet de Onis. New York: Knopf, 1969.
Brower, Keith, et al., eds. Jorge Amado: New Critical Essays. New York and London: Routledge, 2001.
Denning, Michael. Culture in the Age of Three Worlds. London and New York: Verso, 2004.