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Jorge Amado: Mar morto (Sea of Death)

Though most of his novels centre around the cocoa-growing plantations of Bahia, there are one or two where the sea is the focus and no more so than this one. This is the story of a brave sailor – Guma – who plies his trade in a sloop, braving treacherous seas, sharks and unscrupulous businessmen to make a living. He is born out of wedlock to Federico but neither of his parents want to bring him up so he is left with his uncle Francisco. He grows up on the dock and his profession is inevitable. He makes his name when he alone is prepared to brave a storm to pilot a stricken ship into the harbor which, of course, he does.

We follow his adventures on the docks. He sees, meets and falls in love with Lívia and then elopes with her, to the disgust of her well-to-do store-owning aunt and uncle. Theirs is a passionate love and Amado tells us all about it. The small boat-owners have a hard life and Amado – his sympathy for the ordinary man well-known – describes in some detail the plight they face. Eventually, Guma turns to smuggling to help supplement his meagre income (he is now a father and needs money more than ever, particularly when he loses his sloop and has to buy another one) but, of course, pays the ultimate price, albeit in a heroic act. Not one of Amado’s great books but a sympathetic and well-told story.

Publishing history

First published 1936 by J. Olympio
First published in English 1984 by Avon Books
Translated by Gregory Rabassa