Jorge Amado: Tereza Batista Cansada de Guerra (Tereza Batista: Home from the Wars)
Tereza Batista is another of Amado’s somewhat larger than life heroines but this novel, frankly, seemed to be less attractive than some of his others featuring a larger than life heroine, not least because it is very – brutally – violent. Tereza is a free spirit, even as a child when she is brought up by her aunt (her parents having died). However, as soon as she reaches puberty, she becomes a commodity, in particular to the brutal Captain Justo, local storeowner and business man. Justo makes a habit of buying young virgins, raping and taming them and then discarding them, when they usually end up in the local brothel. Tereza is added to his list and her aunt is willing to sell her for the money. Tereza is not easily tamed and the particularly brutal taming of her by the Captain is one of the nastiest parts of Amado’s entire oeuvre. Eventually, she succumbs but the Captain keeps her on, not only because of her physical charms but because of her ability as a cashier in his store. She, however, resents him bitterly, more so when she falls in love with a local lad, just out for a bit of fun. The inevitable happens and the lovers are discovered. Tereza stabs the Captain and kills him but her lover shows his true colours and Tereza ends up in prison, while the lover moves on.
She is rescued by the local rich landowner who, despite his advanced age and marital state, is the one she falls for and they live happily together till he has a heart attack during orgasm. Tereza retains her free spirit and gradually becomes an inspiration for all the artists and sailors in the area. Two key events help solidify her reputation. The first is when the region is hit by plague. She organizes all the whores in the area as nurses and they set up a fever hospital, take care of the sick and bury the dead. The doctor has fled the area (though is still struck by the plague) and Tereza and her whores help save the place (though get little credit for it.) The second key event is when the whores are driven out of the area they live in so that the owner can build luxury housing. She organizes a strike, which is timed with the arrival of the US fleet. Even the gay whores join in. The police try to force them back to work but to no avail and, of course, they win. This book has many fine qualities and Tereza is clearly one of Amado’s great heroines but the brutality is decidedly nasty.
First published 1972 by Livraria Martins
First published in English 1975 by Alfred A Knopf
Translated by Barbara Shelby