Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The War of the Saints – Jorge Amado

The receptionist at the Hotel Britania, Ilhéµ³, in the Brazilian State of Bahia, a stocky man in his fifties with a captivating goatee, offers to help me with a collect call home and proudly announces to my mother ?Senhora, I?ll put you on to your daughter, guest of Bahia, the beautiful and magic homeland of the great Brazilian writer Jorge Amado?. My mother, back in Italy, hadn?t a clue what he was talking about, but sure he was right to be proud for coming from the same town where Amado grew up and set his first internationally successful novel, Gabriela, cravo e canela, i.e. Gabriela, clove and cinnamon.

The War of the Saints dates from 1988 and is set in the Citade do Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, where the author lived for years and died in 2001. The novel describes, in the words of Amado himself, ?events that couldn?t have happened anywhere else [?] in the short span of 48 hours, toward the end of the sixties or the beginning of the seventies?. The original title in Portuguese would actually translate as ?The disappearance of the Saint?, which to this reader seems less subtle and definitely more appropriate, the novel being an account of what happened when the statue of Saint Barbara of the Thunder, ?famed for her eternal beauty and miraculous powers?, arrived in the port of Salvador on a sloop and, before the crew managed to disembark and hand her over to the Museum of Sacred Art, ?took a step forward, smoothed the folds of her cape, and walked off?.

The first 7 pages of the book already give away all the elements that will accompany us throughout the story: magic realism, political engagement, Brazilian sensuality, a profound love for the culture and the history of this splendid land, all seasoned with irony, benevolent sarcasm and the false sense of modesty that in fact characterise most, if not all, of Amado?s works. A great emphasis is given here also to religious syncretism and social critique.

With syncretism is intended the attempted fusion of ? in this particular case – two or more systems of religious beliefs, with, generally speaking, a heterogeneous result. The syncretism at the basis of Amado?s book is of course that between the beliefs imported into the ?new world? by the Portuguese, along with the people of Africa they enslaved, and the Catholicism that the Mother Church tried to instil into these people, with good and, more often than not, bad manners, including violence and blackmail. The huge variety of Catholic saints and biblical characters became over the centuries a covering for the just as huge parade of Yoruban deities, and the ceremonies and prayers became a unique blend of many different rites, to form the Afro-Brazilian candombl馬t;/I>. Jorge Amado himself was a member of the candombl馬t;/I>, proudly holding the title of Ob᦬t;/I>, at one of the terreiros in Salvador, the Axé ¤o Op?onj᦬t;/I>. And if you are confused now by this short description I suggest you don?t attempt the book, or else make a good use of the fantastic glossary enclosed as an appendix in the Serpent?s Tail edition!

The book is also a bitter J?accuse of the different regimes that governed Brazil for decades, of the censorship, the disbandment of political parties, the repression of any kind of protest. Don?t forget that Amado himself was forced into exile when the Government outlawed the PCB ? Partido Comunista Brasileiro ? with whom he had been elected as member of the National Constituent Assembly. The Catholic Church does not come out any better from the author?s portrayal of the discriminations and the robberies perpetrated by the many members of the ecclesiastic world who are described having political and economical interests that go far beyond the Christian message. Amado however is not a complete anticlericalist: he talks lovingly of the poor priests of the Brazilian interior, and of their very human sins and weaknesses. Particularly unforgettable is the analysis of the sexual temptations of Father Abelardo Galv㯡

The story of Santa Barbara?s disappearance is the fulcrum of the plot, that however goes way further, touching, as well as those mentioned, a myriad of other themes, including art, food, Carnival, sex, marriage, the role of the media. The events involve a crowd of marvelous characters, everyone subtly described and with a precise role, either in the plot or to corroborate examples and lateral stories.

All in all, The War of the Saints is one more gift from this fantastic storyteller, and, although in my opinion it lacks the epic breath that pervades Gabriela, clove and cinnamon, or Showdown, is a pleasant read capable of conveying all the smell, the sounds, the atmospheres of ?Bahia, the beautiful and magic homeland of the great Brazilian writer Jorge Amado?.

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