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Authors: Jorge Amado

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The Violent Land

BOOK: The Violent Land
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(1912–2001), the son of a cocoa planter, was born in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which he would portray in more than thirty novels. His first novels, published when he was still a teenager, dramatize the class struggles of workers on Bahian cocoa plantations. Amado was later exiled for his leftist politics, but his novels would always have a strong political perspective. Not until Amado returned to Brazil in the 1950s did he write his acclaimed novels
Clove and Cinnamon,
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
(the basis for the successful film and Broadway musical of the same name), which display a lighter, more comic approach than his overtly political novels. One of the most renowned writers of the Latin American boom of the 1960s, Amado had his work translated into more than forty-five languages.

(1892–1950) was an American translator and scholar of Romance languages. Educated at the University of Chicago and the Sorbonne in Paris, he translated numerous books from the Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian, including Miguel de Cervantes's
Don Quixote

has been a professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College and Columbia University since 1983. He previously taught at the University of Virginia, Yale University, and Princeton University. His area of specialization is twentieth-century Latin American narrative, a subject on which he has published three books and numerous articles. Mac Adam is also a translator of Latin American fiction and has translated novels by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, Alejo Carpentier, Reinaldo Arenas, Julio Cortázar, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Osvaldo Soriano. He also translated from the Portuguese Machado de Assis's
The Immortal,
as well as a selection of Fernando Pessoa's
The Book of Disquiet
. Mac Adam edited
Review: Latin American Literature and Arts,
a publication of the Americas Society, from 1984 until 2004. For Penguin Classics he edited
On Argentina
by Jorge Luis Borges.


The Violent Land

Translated by


Introduction by




Published by the Penguin Group

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Translation by Samuel Putnam first published in the United States of America by Alfred A. Knopf 1945

Published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.

This edition with an introduction by Alfred Mac Adam published in Penguin Books 2013

Copyright © Grapiuna—Grapiuna Producoes Artisticas Ltda., 2008

English translation copyright Alfred A. Knopf, 1945

English translation of foreword copyright © Alfred A. Knopf, 1965

Introduction copyright © Alfred Mac Adam, 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this product may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Published in Portuguese under the title
Terras do sem-fim
by Livraria Martins Editora, São Paulo, 1943


Amado, Jorge, 1912–2001.

[Terras do sem-fim. English]

The Violent Land / Jorge Amado ; translated by Samuel Putnam ; introduction by Alfred Mac Adam.

pages cm

ISBN 978-1-101-60292-8

I. Putnam, Samuel, 1892–1950, translator. II. Title.

PQ9697.A647T413 2013

869'.3—dc23 2012044301


Jorge Amado (1912–2001), Brazil's most celebrated twentieth-century novelist, was only thirty-one when he published
The Violent Land
(1943). He wrote the novel in Uruguay during one of his many periods of exile, and it was immediately embraced by critics and readers. He was a success, but a Brazilian success, and, like all Third World writers and artists, he wanted to reach a wider audience. Eventually, as he notes in the preface he wrote for the 1965 edition of the translation (included here), the novel would be translated into twenty-five languages, but Samuel Putnam's 1945 translation, published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York, was an important step in the transformation of Amado into an international literary star.

Blanche Knopf, wife and business partner of Alfred, made a tour of Latin America in 1942 looking for talent and simultaneously aiding the State Department's program to better U.S.–Latin American relations—the Good Neighbor Policy of the Roosevelt administration. Amado was one of her discoveries. Perhaps with Knopf's encouragement, Amado changed the poetic but difficult-to-translate original title of
The Violent Land
Terra do Sem Fim,
literally “land of no end”). He must have liked the new title, because it reappears in the 1948 Brazilian movie (in which he appears) based on it.

Amado's 1965 preface connects the novel to his life and gives some hints about how he wanted it to be read two decades after it first appeared: “
No other of my books, however, is as dear to me as
The Violent Land:
in it lie my roots; it is of the blood from which I was created; it contains the gunfire that resounded during my early infancy
.” Not only does this show just how important the novel was to its author, but it also locate
s both Amado and the novel in a specific context. Amado was born in the state of Bahia near the city of Ilhéus (spelled Ilhéos in the novel), today a center of tourism but in the early twentieth century the port from which Brazil's cacao, or raw chocolate, was exported. Amado's early career
is consubstantial with the history of the cacao industry, linking him to North American regional writers like William Faulkner (1897–1962), whose characters' lives are intertwined with the history of cotton in the American South.

Amado's first literary efforts at the Jesuit school he attended in the state capital, Salvador, dazzled his mentors despite his poor performance as a student. That he had natural talent is unquestionable, but he was also able to draw inspiration from a vigorous Brazilian literary tradition, best represented by Aluísio Azevedo (1857–1913), author of
The Slum
(1890), a portrait of proletarian city life, and Graciliano Ramos (1892–1953), author of
Barren Lives
(1938), about the life of the poor in the dessicated Brazilian northeast. These authors combine realism (detailed representation of society and its inhabitants at a given historical moment) with naturalism (social criticism intended to move the reader morally and politically). Amado fuses this tradition with an ideology, Communism and its socialist realism aesthetic, a combination that paradoxically constrains and frees his imagination.

That is, Amado wrote under constraint because he was bound by his ideology to denounce society, to write exclusively about a real world he knew firsthand, to isolate its competing energies, and to show how their collision produced a new stage in Brazil's history. At the same time, even though he conformed to that position, he was free to present aspects of that world, especially its popular music, its folk religion, and its sensuality. These elements, which fascinate him and appear in all his novels, enliven and humanize Amado's work irrespective of their historical, social, or political significance. It is this rare ability to blend his ideological imperatives with his personal obsessions that makes Amado a genuine artist and not a political hack.
The Violent Land
not only inaugurates his literary maturity but also constitutes a model for the Latin American writers—Brazilian and Spanish American alike—of the second half of the twentieth century: from this novel they could learn how to balance social criticism and purely artistic concerns.

The Violent Land,
Amado portrays the creation of a new agricultural industry, cacao cultivation. Since, following the precepts of his political credo, nothing can be created without a struggle—men against nature, men against men, class against class—he places struggle at the center of his text. The strife Amado describes in
The Violent Land
will inevitably remind today's readers of the warfare between drug cartels in any number of Latin American countries. Each gang seeks to dominate the production and distribution of drugs, and what the colonels—the plantation-owning warlords of Amado's novel—seek is exactly the same thing: to control cacao production by stealing plantations, taking possession of forest land, clearing it, and planting cacao trees. Their intention is to corner the market on cacao no matter what the human or ecological consequences might be.

Such is Amado's ideological critique of the cacao industry and the mechanisms of international capitalism. His colonels fight to dominate production, but, as the manager of the Swiss-German Zude Brothers export company, which also brokers such Brazilian commodities as tobacco, coffee, and cotton, explains to Sinhó Badaró, one of the two principal colonels:

It is true we are able to place all the cacao we can get. But this business of prices, colonel, it is the gringos who determine that. Our cacao doesn't stand a chance compared to that from the Gold Coast. And it is England that fixes the price. When you gentlemen have brought this whole region under cultivation, when you have cleared all the jungle land that's still left around here, then it may be we shall be able to dictate prices to the United States.

This speech is Amado's summary of the predicament of all commodity-producing nations, whether they produce cacao, sugar, soybeans, or oil. Unless the producers monopolize production and distribution, they are at the mercy of the international commodity market. (The Gold Coast to which Zude refers is British West Africa, which would dominate cacao production after disease wipes out Brazilian cacao trees in the 1920s. The exporter points out that British domination of that market is ironclad, but that the United States offers possibilities.)

Amado presents this nascent agribusiness as a hierarchy. The international market sets the price of cacao as long as there are multiple producers competing against one another and as long as there is no product shortage. Within the production economy (the plantations) we find the colonels, represented here by the self-made titans Juca Badaró and Horacio da Silveira, who control capital and labor. Workers pour into Bahia from poorer Brazilian states hoping to get rich but end up as virtual slaves, permanently indebted to the “company store,” whose inflated prices for necessary items like tools, medicine, and weapons guarantee they will be free only when they die, a system reminiscent of the way sharecroppers and coal miners were treated in the United States. But Amado's narrator points out that while the workers are de facto slaves, really everyone in the cacao business is a prisoner of cacao:

The workers in the groves had the cacao slime on their feet, and it became a thick rind that no water could wash away. And all of them—workers,
[backwoodsmen], colonels, lawyers, doctors, merchants, and exporters—they all had that slime clinging to their souls, inside them, deep in their hearts, and no amount of education, culture, or refinement of feeling could cleanse them of it. For cacao was money, cacao was power, cacao was the whole of life; it was not merely something planted in the black and sap-giving earth: it was inside themselves. Growing within them, it cast over every heart a malignant shade, slaying all good impulses.

The “cacao slime” results from the complex processing of cacao. The cacao tree produces pods containing a sweet pulp (what probably drew people and animals to the pods originally) and beans. The pods take approximately six months to mature on the tree (which themselves take five years to grow from seedling to maturity) and must be cut off carefully so as not to damage the “cushion” linking it to the tree and allowing it to produce new flowers. The pods are then opened, the pulp is removed and discarded, and the beans are fermented. The fermentation (which lasts a few days) causes the beans to germinate. The fermented beans are then dried in the sun for a week or two and then winnowed—the shell removed and the nib exposed. The process, from clearing forests to planting and tending to trees, is labor-intensive, filthy (the pulp becomes Amado's “cacao slime”), and expensive: fuel is required during the fermentation because a constant temperature between 113 and 122 degrees must be maintained. If germination does not take place, the chocolate will be tasteless.

The arduous pursuit of a pleasurable delicacy—chocolate—produces misery and depravity. Amado echoes Voltaire, who in
(1759) has a mutilated slave explain that his body has been sacrificed so that Europeans may sweeten their tea with sugar. Amado will embody the madness of cacao production in the struggle between his two colonels, but the true victor in this war is cacao, to which all human ambitions and passions are sacrificed.

Amado captures this drama in his novel in 1943, but we should remember that even a successful novelist in Brazil, or anywhere else in Latin America, for that matter, could not live by his fiction alone. Like the majority of Latin American writers in the twentieth century, Amado made his living as a journalist, but a militant journalist who made no secret of his political affiliations. While he formally joined the Brazilian Communist Party in only 1945, he was certainly a staunch fellow traveler during the 1930s. His political stance put him at odds with the Brazilian dictator Getulio Vargas (1882–1954), who ruled the country between 1930 and 1945. Amado's participation in the abortive 1935 insurrection of the National Liberation Alliance (a loose amalgamation of leftists, liberals, centrists, and military men) against Vargas won him his first jail sentence. Emulating Hitler's infamous 1933 book burnings, the Vargas government publicly burned Amado's books in 1937.

Amado was a marked man and in 1941 had no choice but to go into exile. He fled to Argentina, where he wrote and published a biography of the founder of the Brazilian Communist Party, Luis Carlos Prestes (1898–1990), a book not calculated to endear him to Getulio Vargas. Moving to Uruguay, he wrote
The Violent Land,
but when he returned soon after to Brazil, mistakenly thinking the political storm had blown over, he was jailed again and then banished to the city of Salvador. Internal exile suited him, and he wrote
The Violent Land
's sequel,
São Jorge dos Ilhéus,
a much more overtly doctrinaire novel, about the ebb and flow of capital in cacao country.

Getulio Vargas was ousted by a military coup in 1945 (he returned as president in 1951), so the Communist Party was, at least for a moment, legal. Amado was elected to the congress of the state of São Paulo as a Communist. But by 1947 the Communist Party was again declared illegal, and Amado had to go into exile once again. First he lived in Paris; then he
moved east to Prague. In 1951 he won the Stalin Peace Prize, which the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda would also win, in 1953. (The parallels between the lives of Amado and Neruda are notable: both members of the Communist Party, both elected to office as Communists, both authors of laudatory texts about Luis Carlos Prestes, both forced into exile at about the same time. In 1971 Neruda would win the Nobel Prize, which eluded both Amado and Brazil.) Even after Stalin's death in 1953, Amado remained in the party, though he began to distance himself from it after Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin's excesses and the Soviet invasion of Hungary that same year.

Amado remained a man on the Left, but now focused more on his art rather than his ideology. His 1958 novel,
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon,
the first Latin American novel to hit the
New York Times
best-seller list (in 1962), marked a turn away from militancy and a renewed emphasis on the Afro-Brazilian culture of Bahia. The post-Stalin era enabled Amado to abandon socialist realism (which subordinates all literary activity to party dictates) and immerse himself in the popular culture and sensuality that had always been at the heart of his writing.

It is useful to compare Amado, in political and literary terms, with three of his Spanish American contemporaries, because their careers differ so markedly from his: Octavio Paz, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Julio Cortázar (all born in 1914). Paz (d. 1998), a Mexican poet and essayist who would win the Nobel Prize in 1990, was on the Left until he became disillusioned with Stalinist Communism after visiting Spain in 1937, during the Civil War. He eventually became a centrist. Bioy Casares (d. 1999), except for his firm opposition to the Argentine dictator Juan Domingo Perón (1895–1974), remained conservatively aloof from politics and literary realism and pioneered Argentine fantastic literature. Cortázar (d. 1984), also Argentine, was an apolitical aesthete during his youth who championed the revolutionary governments of Cuba and Nicaragua in the 1960s and 1970s. He published only short stories in the fantastic mode until 1960, when he began to publish novels about existentialist explorations of human destiny. All three were great writers, but none had the almost religious fervor that enabled Amado to harness himself to Communism—that is, to sacrifice his individuality to the party—while surreptitiously reshaping that ideology in his own image. In doing so, Amado somehow managed to maintain his artistic integrity despite his ideological commitment.

Amado's 1965 preface to
The Violent Land
shows just how much he had changed since 1943. He makes no references to the class struggle, nor does he bother to denounce colonialism. Instead he describes his novel in terms that link it to epic literature, as if the battles of the colonels were the necessary, violent prelude to progress:

BOOK: The Violent Land
4.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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