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Jorge Amado: São Jubiabá (Jubiabá)

This is the story of a black Brazilian, Antônio Balduino (known as Baldo), who is born in poverty and orphaned early on. He lives in a poor black district where everyone is poor, most are friendly and all struggle to survive. He is brought up by an aunt but she eventually goes mad and he moves into the home of a rich white family, where he and the daughter – Lindinalva – fall in love but, because of their differences, cannot be together. Baldo has a lot of talents. In particular, he is a talented song writer and performer (but his songs are stolen and exploited by someone else). He then becomes a boxer when a promoter sees that he has a lot of talent. His career as a boxer seems made but then, when he learns of Lindinalva’s impending marriage to a well-to-do lawyer, he loses his nerve and the next bout and never boxes professionally again.

While this has been going on we have always been given the impression that Baldo is something special, if only he can control himself, discipline himself. But Baldo is special – he doesn’t care. He cares about people – his friends, Lindinalva – but he doesn’t care about success, fame, possessions. Thus he can walk away from his boxing career without a blink and drift around the Brazilian coast. He works on a tobacco plantation but has to leave when he almost kills a cruel foreman. He becomes a circus boxer but the circus goes bankrupt. He ends up a stevedore, not because it is a job that he wants but because a man he likes (but does not know well) is killed while working as a stevedore. It is almost inevitable that he ends up as one of the leaders of a mass strike for better pay and conditions not just for the stevedores but for many other workers. Oh, and he nearly saves Lindinalva from prostitution, though she finally dies a La Bohème type of death.

Baldo wants to be remembered, particularly he wants to be remembered in the songs that are written and composed by people like him about local heroes such as the local bandits. He gets his wish. But there is one other key aspect to this book and that is Jubiabá who, you may recall, is the title of the book. Jubiabá is a father figure to Baldo. He goes back to the time of slavery (the book is set in the 1930s) and seems to carry on in good form throughout the book. More importantly than a father figure, however, Jubiabá is the local voodoo priest. People go to him to be cured, instead of to a doctor, but they also go to him for love potions, to lift curses and so on. Though he is definitely subsidiary to Baldo, his presence is felt throughout the book, even during the period of Baldo’s travels when he does not appear. And his presence is definitely seen as positive, his magic as very real and an integral part of the culture of the Brazilian blacks. And this is the strength of this novel – it may slip into melodrama and it’s certainly never magic realism – but Amado never lets his sincerity and the power of his interest in his main characters and the power of magic wane.

Publishing history

First published 1935 by J. Olympio
First published in English 1984 by Avon Books
Translated by Margaret A. Neves