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Jorge Amado: Dona Flor e seus dois maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands)

Many consider this to be Amado’s best book (though I personally consider Tenda dos milagres (Tent of Miracles) to be superior). It is certainly the best known, thanks to the film. And it certainly is a fascinating story, superbly told by Amado.

It starts with the death of Dona Flor’s first husband, Vadinho. Vadinho is a totally incorrigible rogue, without any moral scruples whatsoever. When they met, Dona Flor was a sweet and demure lady, living with her rather obnoxious, widowed mother. Dona Flor is fascinated by local cookery and has set up a cooking school which gives her a decent living. When Vadinho appears on the scene, Dona Flor’s mother encourages the relationship, under the mistaken impression that he comes from a well-to-do family. In a way he does. He is the bastard child of the son of a well-to-do family and the family maid. The maid died giving birth to Vadinho and he was brought up in orphanages and a real trouble-maker he was and remains. He has managed, through his family connections, to get a job in the parks department but only goes to work to collect his paycheck. His life is spent in partying, carousing, chasing women, getting drunk and, in particular, gambling. He is an expert at borrowing money, even though his lenders know the money will never be returned.

When he dies – he collapses from a heartache at a pre-Carnival party – Dona Flor is miserable. Despite the fact that he is a terrible husband – he is never there, he drinks, spends her money, cheats on her and even strikes her – she still loves him dearly and is heartbroken when he dies. Despite the encouragement of her friends, she resists all attempts to start up a new relationship. Finally, she is persuaded that there is a nice, single man in her neighborhood – the local pharmacist. He had remained single to look after his mother who was crippled as the result of stroke. But his mother has now died and he is available. She hesitantly starts dating him and finds out that he is a decent man, a gentleman and soon makes plans to marry him.

And this is when the fun starts. For, suddenly, the book changes from being a highly enjoyable, realistic love story to being something of a fantasy – magic realism, if you will. For the late Vadinho suddenly re-appears to Dona Flor, apparently summoned by her. She can see him but no-one else can. While he has sex with her, he takes advantage of his invisibility to fondle other women but, more particularly, to help his friends bust the casinos by having them bet on his magic number – 17 – which did not work very well when he was alive but works perfectly now that he is dead. Amado has a wonderful time with Vadinho’s antics, the increasing fury and frustration of the casino owners (both Italians), Dona Flor’s ambiguous feelings towards Vadinho and the pharmacist and the attempts to get rid of Vadinho (which rely heavily on the traditional religion.) If you have to read only one Amado this should be it.

Publishing history

First published 1966 by Livraria Martins
First published in English 1969 by Alfred A Knopf