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Jorge Amado: Os pastores da noite (Shepherds of the Night)

This is really three long short stories but they are closely interrelated, with many of the same characters. Indeed, it might best be characterized as three episodes in the lives of a particular group of denizens of Bahia. These denizens are, of course, Amado’s favorite characters – the poor and the downtrodden and the unemployed but also the rogues and the gamblers and the prostitutes. Amado’s sympathies are clearly with this group, despite their immorality (or, in some cases, amorality), particularly in their dealings with the police, landlords, government and other authority figures.

The first story is about love – sort of. Corporal Martim (apparently a military corporal but a professional gambler by trade) has, it seems, taken a wife. Given his propensity for women – he longingly quotes an old Bahian saying A man cannot sleep with all the women in the world but he should try – his friends are surprised. He even seems to have settled down somewhat. However, Marialva, the lady in question, beautiful though she is, soon wants to control the Corporal and he soon loses interest in her and transfers his attention elsewhere. Meanwhile, his best friend Bullfinch has fallen in love with Marialva but does not wish to betray his friend. Marialva seems to reciprocate this love, though she is only out for revenge on the Corporal for his philandering. However, it all turns out well in the end (except for Marialva) and Amado has a great time telling the tale.

Number two is much simpler and concerns the christening of the son of the Negro Massu (the mother having died in childbirth). The question is who is to be the godfather and the solution is not easy as there are a lot of candidates and all would be hurt if not selected. Thanks to the intervention of the Afro-Brazilian gods, everything is sort of resolved. The final story is about the poor taking over undeveloped land which the owner is keeping for later development when the city spreads out to the area and he can make a killing. At first, they meet with considerable opposition but when the press and the politicians get hold of the issue, it becomes a political football with the politicians and police shown inevitably in a poor light while the poor suffer. But, once again, all ends well as Amado has a great time castigating all the rich, the lawyers, the police and, in particular, the politicians. Amado recounts three enormously enjoyable stories with color, wit and, most of all, love of the people he is describing.

Publishing history

First published 1964 by Livraria Martins
First published in English 1967 by Alfred A Knopf
Translated by Harriet de Onis