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Jorge Amado: Tocaia Grande (Showdown)

The Portuguese title means something like big ambush but the English title might be somewhat better as this novel both starts and ends with a showdown. In this story, Amado returns to the stories of the wars around the cocoa plantations. Two colonels (the titles are courtesy ones and not necessarily military ones) are vying for the rich forest groves behind their lands. Colonel Elias Daltro has the upper hand and is bringing in a bunch of armed men to seal his victory. Colonel Boaventura has, however, one advantage. Working for him is Natário da Fonseca, a very shrewd man who also knows the area well. With a spy who tells him when the hired gunmen are coming and the route they will be taking, he arranges an ambush where he and his men slaughter all the gunmen. His reward is the land that will become Tocaia Grande and, as Amado tells us in the foreword and at the end, the renowned (and fictional) city of Irisópolis.

The rest of the novel is the story of how Tocaia Grande grew up and, shortly after the end of the novel, became Irisópolis. There are two key players – Natário da Fonseca and the Lebanese trader, Fadu, who opens up a store in the town. Of course, as it is Amado, there are plenty of whores-with-hearts-of-gold and, it is, indeed, they who are the first inhabitants of the town. The town struggles to get going but eventually gets some residents from Sergipe who, in particular, have families. The town goes through all sorts of tribulations – bandits who trash Fadu’s store to find his gold coins (which he does not have), a huge flood which almost destroys the town and the death of Colonel Boaventura and his replacement by his not very nice son. They, of course, survive with all sorts of adventures, births and deaths till the final showdown when legal games means they have to fight (and die) for their survival. Do they win? Amado does not tell us, only that Irisópolis is born out of the fight.

Publishing history

First published 1984 by Editora Record
First published in English 1988 by Bantam Books
Translated by Gregory Rabassa