Jorge Amado: Tenda dos milagres (Tent of Miracles)
This is, in my view, Amado’s best novel – better even than Dona Flor e seus dois maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands). Firstly, it is a tribute to Brazil’s mixed race culture. Amado is certainly partisan in this issue, making a strong case for the mixed race culture and the positive contribution of African culture to Brazil. He equates the proponents of (white) racial purity with Hitler. He hints – not very subtly – that, as with many whites from the Southern states of the USA, many so-called white Brazilians have black blood in them. But, most importantly, he shows the contribution of the mestizos to Brazil and Brazilian culture.
This story is about many Brazilians. It is about Tadeu Canhoto, the young man of mixed race who loves Liu (and is loved by her) and has all sorts of intellectual talents. It is about Lidio Corró, first printer (and publisher) and then, when his press is destroyed by the police, painter of miracles. It is about Ana Mercedes, the sexy poet. It is about Professor Fraga Neto and his enemy, the fascist, Professor Argolo. It is even about a few foreigners – Don León, the Argentinean bookseller, Professor James Levenson, the American Nobel Prize winner and Kirsi, the Finnish girl who jumps ship in Bahia. Above all it is about the characters who make up the vibrant and colorful of Bahia. And it is about Pedro Aranjo.
Pedro Aranjo may well be Amado’s most interesting character. He is, of course, a mestizo. His father was killed in the Triple Alliance War before Pedro was born. He has little formal education but is passionately interested in the culture, particularly the mestizo culture of Bahia. When the novel starts, he has just died in considerable poverty but his work has been recognised by the afore-mentioned Professor Levenson. Immediately, the Brazilian academic world, which is totally ignorant of his work, falls over itself to recognise his contribution to Brazilian culture. We then follow both the reaction of Brazilian society to recognise him (and Amado really sticks his satirical knife in here) and, of course, we get Aranjo’s story. His prime job was as a runner (a sort of messenger-factotum at the university) but, in his spare time, he chases women (he never marries), parties and, in particular, studies Bahian culture and its African influences, producing four works on different aspects of this culture, which have no success during his life (some are destroyed by the police) but considerable success after his death.
Amado is not about celebrating Bahian culture by describing books about it but does so by showing how much Aranjo is involved in all aspects of it, including the religion, food, partying and, of course, the community. Pedro is a brave man who stands up for the weak and the oppressed – even while poor and ill, he fights hard for Brazil to be more involved in the war against Hitler. He fights the fascists, the police, authority figures in general, while standing up for the little man (and woman). At the same time, he cares little about worldly success or goods, as long he can have a good time, help the weak and promote his Bahian culture. And Amado does a wonderful job of telling us how he does this.
First published 1969 by Livraria Martins
First published in English 1971 by Alfred A Knopf
Translated by Barbara Shelby