Here, in the first English translation of a novel written some 40 years ago, Amado (Pen, Sword, Camisole, 1985, etc.) strikes off with his trademark exuberance—this time to tell the cautionary tale of how brokered cacao devastates the economy, ecology, and societal structure of the Brazilian provincial port of Ilheus. The chief villain is the middleman, Carlos Zude, a cuckolded but financially ambitious exporter, who decides in the unsettled political climate of pre-WW II that he and his cronies can do as much for setting the price of the commodity as the big exchanges. Reading a scarcity situation shrewdly, he sets off a boom in the crop that at first seems to benefit Ilheus boundlessly. Until the bust, that is, when the reality rises up—the reality being that the poor have remained poor (and gotten even poorer), that the rain forest has been cut down to provide more acreage for cacao planting (Amado lets us know that this is not a new problem), and that the autocratic but at least locally based plantation system is destroyed with little to replace it. Amado seems to surrender to the material halfway through- -chapters become shorter and shorter, merely notational—and the scantiness of characterization is disappointing from so lusty and zestful a writer. Still, Amado provides us with the fullness of Brazilian reality and modern history that no other writer we read in translation does.
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