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Jorge Amado: Terras do Sem-Fim (The Violent Land)

The English title is well chosen (the Portuguese title, incidentally, translates as Lands Without End). For this story is about the violence involved in creating the cocoa-growing empires in the forests of Bahia. In the introduction to the book, Amado says that he witnessed these events and, indeed, a small child who appears in the story is clearly Amado himself. Two families are vying for control of the forests – the Badarós (brothers Jucá and Sinha, the former being the muscle, the latter the brains) and Colonel Horacio (the landowners are all called colonel). The story is about how each tries to gain control, using assassination, political trickery and other dirty tricks as their weapons.

Where Amado elevates this story above a routine Brazilian Western is with his depiction of the characters. The story of the sure-fire hitman who loses his nerve at the last minute is masterly as is the story of the old black magic hermit who lives out in the forest that is ultimately cut down for the cocoa plantations. For Amado, this is clearly the story to tell and while he disapproves of the violence, he cannot help but admire the passion that led to it and marvel at the heroic scale, bravery and power of the men involved. Yes, it shares many of the aspects of the American Western, with cocoa forests replacing cattle ranching as the driving force. But as an epic struggle, with evil pitted against evil, it makes for fascinating reading.

Publishing history

First published 1943 by Livraria Martins
First published in English 1945 by Alfred A. Knopf
Translated by Samuel Putnam