- Jorge Amado:Exile and Literature
Because exile, unlike nationalism, is fundamentally a discontinuous state of being. Exiles are cut off from their roots, their land, their past. They generally do not have armies or states, although they are often in search of them. Exiles feel, therefore, an urgent need to reconstitute their broken lives, usually by choosing to see themselves as part of a triumphant ideology or a restored people.—Edward Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays
Paris, Capital of the Exiled
In 1946, Jorge Amado was elected federal representative for the Brazilian National Assembly as a candidate of the Brazilian Communist Party. This assembly was in charge of bringing democracy back to Brazil after the end of Getúlio Vargas's dictatorship. Amado's electoral victory, at the age of thirty-four, proved his position as a novelist of great popular prestige. However, two years later, he was impeached, and he chose to exile himself and his wife to the French capital, where the leftist press received him as a hero. Once there, he unknowingly followed the same steps as those taken by Nísia Floresta: he lived in the Latin Quarter and established relationships with other exiled Brazilians and Latin Americans as well as with European intellectuals and artists, such as Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, Pablo Picasso, and many others.1 [End Page 382]
Upon his arrival, Amado was not entirely unknown to the French public. Before World War II, Jubiabá had appeared in France as Bahia de tous les saints (1938), and it had several illustrious readers. In his Journal, André Gide severely criticizes the text written by the then twenty-three-year-old Amado, stating that "I have not been able to become interested in this linear narrative, it is without breadth, simply discursive, although it may admit the presence of certain qualities, albeit vulgar ones."2 Albert Camus, however, is more attentive to the fact that this "vulgarity" was a strategic part of Amado's project of "writ[ing] for the masses." He sees the "moving use of melodramatic themes as a surrender to life and its immensurable excesses." He adds that in the novel
on n'y discute pas sur l'amour. On s'y suffit d'aimer et avec toute la chair. On n'y rencontre pas le mot de fraternité, mais des mains de nègres et des mains deblancs (pas beaucoup) qui se serrent. Et le livre tout entier est écrit comme une suite de cris ou de mélopées, d'avances et de retours. Rien n'y est indifférent. Tout y est émouvant.3
(there are no arguments about love. It suffices to love and to love with all of one's strength. [In this book] the word fraternity cannot be found, but one finds the hands of blacks and (of a few) whites holding each other. And the entire book is written as a sequence of screams or melodies, advances and returns. Nothing is indifferent. Everything is moving.)
Camus was correct in detecting the fundamentals of the roman feuilleton as the basis for Amado's project. In fact, the melodramatic procedures and strategies Amado uses constitute the dorsal spine of a novel whose target readership is the popular masses. Moreover, these same procedures and strategies are largely responsible for the work's excellent reception in almost the entire world. It is a work of fiction that largely dismisses the paradigm of the modern novel, marked by introspection and wordplay. Instead, Amado revives the old romantic plot and invokes action, playfulness, and sentiment.
French editors soon assimilated Amado's tirelessly repeated trademark phrase "I am only a storyteller." After the war, francophone readers were given access to the adventures of colonels and peasants in Terras do sem fim (The Violent Land), Terre violente in the French translation, which was published as a book in 1946 but also as feuilleton, in the Femmes françaises magazine, the following year. The novel, written under the Estado Novo censorship, avoids politico-ideological proselytism, and as a result of its good critical [End Page 383] reception and reviews by Maurice Nadeau...