Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Review - The Violent Land by Jorge Amado

Jorge Amado is a Brazilian writer and wrote this novel in 1942. The novel's story is basically about the struggle between an aristocratic family, the Badaros, and a middle-class planter Colonel Horacio Silveira for a crucial piece of land for the growing of cacao. Amado's true subject--and one he frequently comes back to--is the effect of the Bahia region's vast cacao plantations on the local citizens and the communities in which they live. Having heard a lot about Amado, the novel was somewhat of a letdown. The book was written in Portuguese and i read an English translation, so perhaps i should blame the translation.

The novel's flow continously varies; it's frustratingly slow at times, describing in detail the local vegetation, customs, the people and their characters. At other times, it quickly skips over long periods of time, e.g., the first section deals with the boat trip and the following sections takes the reader some years after the trip. The main characters in the novel are the 'colonels' who own the cacao plantations and their hired killers (there was a Portuguese term for them that i forgot). Through the main plot (the struggle between the Badaros and Colonel Horacio), Amado provides us with a window into that period and how continous cyclic violence shaped people's lives. We are confronted with a lawless land to which the allure of quick money draws people and from which few return alive and unchanged. In the story, Amado continously returns to the local topography drawing a parallel between the violence perpetuated by the colonels and their thugs, and the surrounding forests. The image thus is of a land seeped in violence both natural and man-made and thus the novel's title.