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The Golden Harvest.

The creator of classics such as Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Tieta, and Tereza Batista, Brazil's Jorge Amado is one of Latin America's greatest storytellers. Even in this 1944 novel, translated now for the first time into English, Amado's narrative powers are remarkable.

While the author's later works feature lusty women, macho men, juicy plots, and lots of humor, his early novels are highly political. The later novels provide a panoramic view of northern Brazilian society and capture the warmth and vitality of the people of Bahia, yet Amado remains a non-judgmental spectator. In The Golden Harvest, on the other hand, the author has an agenda. He is out to expose the corruption of the moneyed classes the social injustice that has kept the Brazilian farm worker in a state of near servitude for centuries.

Like other Amado stories, The Golden Harvest takes place in Ilheus, the port city of southern Bahia from which cacao is exported. The colonials, or cacao lords, took and held the rich lands surrounding Ilheus by means of violence. They cleared the acres and cultivated the cacao crops, relying on impoverished peasants doubling as hired killers to work and protect it.

As Amado's story begins, the colonials have grown old, affluent and respectable. Still rough and rugged men at heart, their sons, who have not had to fight for their fortune, are spoiled, decadent fops. Motivated by greed, a powerful cabal of exporters, led by Carlos Zude, sets out to ruin the cacao growers and take over their lands. The plan is to force a rise in prices, thereby creating a boom. The unsophisticated colonials and their debauched offspring begin to squander money, running up huge bills and borrowing from exporters against future sales of their cacao. When the exporters unexpectedly lower prices, thereby forcing a bust, the colonials are caught off-guard. With no further credit and no means of paying their debts, they are forced to sell their lands at ridiculously low prices. Zude's plan has worked perfectly. Or has it?

The Communists, who have been trying to organize the workers all along, are aided by the bust, which has put thousands of cacao workers out of a job. Formerly oblivious to the calls of the agitators, the unemployed hands join forces and show their collective muscle. Even worse for Zude is the fact that his wife, Julieta, is having an affair with a Communist sympathizer and winds up finding her husband's business tactics unbearably distasteful. A precursor of the good-hearted temptress-protagonists in Amado's later novels, Julieta is a bombshell who drives men mad, especially her own husband. In fact, it is for his wife that Zude devises his diabolical scheme for getting rich. But once Julieta takes up with her lover/poet, she starts to read and to think--no longer content to be just a sex object--and, eventually, to reject everything that Zude stands for.

Like Amado's later novels, The Golden Harvest portrays an entire society. This book includes a vast array of characters--rich colonials, small farmers, cacao workers, exporters and their children, wives, mistresses, and hired hands. It includes folk songs and customs of the working class, as well as a close look at the habits and values of the moneyed elite.

Although The Golden Harvest contains a harsh condemnation of exploitation on the cacao plantations as well as in the export houses, this is no political treatise. It is an engrossing romance whose political message never overpowers the plot. Thanks to the superb translation by Clifford E. Landers, English-speaking audiences can now appreciate the skill and wit of the young Jorge Amado and gain insight into the evolution of a truly great novelist.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Organization of American States
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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