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Jorge Amado: Farda, fardão, camisola de dormir: fábula para acender uma esperança: romance (Pen, Sword, Camisole: a Fable to Kindle a Hope)

Amado’s novels are always fun, with his heroes/heroines enjoying a liberal amount of sex, booze, food and the other good things of life. Many of them do have, however, a serious side, even if it is buried under the sex’n’booze and the serious side is about how the ordinary person can prevail against the authorities. In this one, the serious side is even more serious than usual – the fight against Nazism and militarism. At the time of writing this novel – 1980 – the Nazi threat was well past but Brazil was under military rule and would be for another five years, so Amado was clearly making a strong point.

The story concerns the Brazilian Academy of Letters, a literary academy modeled on its more famous French counterpart, not least in limiting membership to forty – the Immortals. At the start of the story, António Bruno, a poet and member of the Academy, dies of a heart attack. Though Brazilian, he lives in and loves Paris, and dies when his beloved Paris is occupied by the Germans, leaving his seat vacant. There are three requirements to be elected to the Academy. The candidate must have published one book. He must be male. And he must be elected by a majority of the living academicians. Lisandro Leite, one of the academicians wants to be nominated to the Supreme Court and feels that his best chance is to nominate Colonel Sampaio Pereira, head of the security forces, a torturer and Nazi sympathizer, to the Academy of Letters. Knowing that no civilian will dare run against him, the other academicians seek out a cashiered general – Waldomiro Moreira – a bore who has written a few boring books and who has the advantage of outranking the colonel.

The book has two parallel themes. Firstly, there is the election. Secondly there is the story of António Bruno, which seems mainly to consist of his various love affairs and the poems he writes about them. But the election is the most fun, as there are various manoeuvres (frequently involving, of course, sex). There is a nice twist as, half way through the book, Sampaio Pereira, rebuffed by the oldest academician, dies of a heart attack. Now, the other members realize that they are left with Moreira, who changes from being an obsequious bore to a pompous and imperious general, with ideas on changing the Academy. Now they have to scheme to vote him down (the date for registering another candidate has passed), by getting enough people to abstain or vote with a blank ballot. Of course, everything turns out right in the end, though with another nice twist.

Publishing history

First published 1979 by Editora Record
First published in English 1985 by Avon Books