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Jorge Amado: Tieta do Agreste (Tieta)

Amado loves to drag out his little jokes, particularly one where the savvy reader knows what’s up but where the characters and the less savvy readers remain in ignorance. Anyone who has read Amado before will understand the joke that he plays on us for the first 100 pages here. Tieta – Antonieta Esteves Cantarelli – left the tiny, remote town of Agreste when she was young. Since then she has never returned but she does send money to her relatives – her widowed (but remarried) father and her two (married, though one is widowed) sisters. Indeed, they have come to depend on the money for their little luxuries. When the money does not arrive one month, there is extensive panic, with Amado building up the tension. Then they learn that Tieta’s husband – a rich executive and a Comendador no less – has died and Tieta is to return to Agreste with her stepdaughter and, they hope, money and presents.

Of course, we have figured out – and Amado soon tells us – that her money comes not from a rich marriage (she is not married) but because she is the madam of the most exclusive whorehouse in Sño Paolo. Yes, she did know the Comendador and was his lover but he was already married. The alleged stepdaughter is merely a whore in her whorehouse.

There are two main plots here which Amado spins out. The first might be described as the Tieta effect – the effect she has on the inhabitants of Agreste. She brings munificence. She brings electricity. And she brings love. She falls in love with her young nephew, Ricardo, who is very pious and in training to be a priest, and seduces him. He reciprocates, unbeknownst to his mother/her sister, the very pious Perpetua. Amado, of course, plays along with the Tieta effect for much of the book, poking fun at the country hicks but also the city slickers.

The second plot theme might be described as the progress versus the old-fashioned ways theme. Agreste is isolated – only one very poor track runs to the town. It is also poor and the inhabitants eke out a living. However, it has a beautiful beach – Mangue Seco – and is generally unspoiled. However, Brastánio, a producer of titanium dioxide, wants to build a factory in Brazil after having been turned down everywhere else. Ascánio Trindade, town clerk and acting mayor, wants to bring progress to Agreste and is soon sucked in by the Brastánio people. Many of the inhabitants are unsure of the implications, while those opposed find little enthusiasm for their cause. Of course, Amado is clearly on the green side and against the titanium dioxide and, eventually, after lots of toing and froing, Tieta takes up the cause. Of course, it is a lot more complicated than that, with love and sex and gambling and good food and well, if you have read other Amado novels you know what to expect.

Publishing history

First published 1977 by Editora Record
First published in English 1979 by Alfred A Knopf
Translated by Barbara Shelby Merello