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Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cast of wonderful characters, 11 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: Dona Flor and her Two Husbands (Five Star Paperback) (Paperback)
The Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado, 1912-2001, explains the dilemma at the centre of this book in its title, 'Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands'. Dona Flor's first husband, Vadinho dos Guimaraes has caused his wife equal measures of pain and passion before he dies unexpectedly during Carnival celebrations in 1940s Bahia, an Eastern state on the Atlantic coast. The novel, which runs to well over 500 pages, has been translated from the Portuguese by Harriet de Onís.

Vadinho was less than impressed on meeting Flor's mother, the monstrous Dona Rozilda, for the first time, `She was a scarecrow, how she must stink under her petticoat, reek of spoiled fish....A harpy, the skin and bones of dry, salt fish, useless for any lecherous act or thought'. If anything, she thinks even worse of him.

Flor, a spectacular cook who runs a school for Bahian cooks, finds it almost impossible to accept her loss and thinks back to their first meeting and their subsequent years together. Vadinho's gambling, unfaithfulness, duplicity and drinking were known to everyone. Whilst his friends bemoan the passing of a character with whom they passed the time drinking, gambling and visiting brothels, Flor's women friends, led by her mother, consider that she is much better off without her husband and encourage her to forget him and get on with her life.

Eventually, she marries again, Teodoro, the local pharmacist, who is the exact opposite to Vadinho, reliable, trustworthy and thinking about what he can do to make their life together better. The complication is that Vadinho returns from the dead to continue their life together and only his widow can see him. The book, therefore, draws on Brazilian culture and African mysticism.

Amado's protagonist doesn't need to choose between these two options--she can have both at the same time. "I came back from the beyond and here you have me. To bring you joy, suffering and pleasure...to stir up your longing and provoke your desire, hidden in the depths of your being, your modesty. Teodoro protects your virtue, your honor, your respect among people....To be happy you need both of us." It seems a proposal that Flor cannot turn down. Even at his worst, Vadinho was irresistible, and his absence is much more painful to bear than the many late nights when she waited for the sound of footsteps that indicated her husband's return, frequently to borrow money for his next round of gambling. Will Flor betray Teodoro by sleeping with Vadinho? Certainly the former lacks something in the bedroom department, `sex taking place on Wednesdays and Saturdays with an encore on Saturdays, optional on Wednesdays'.

Vadinho, who dominates the first half of the book, is an engaging antihero, and Amado brings his character to life wonderfully - he is the kind of person that one can find enjoyable as long as he remains fictional. Through Vadinho and Flor, the author introduces us to a range of other characters that they knew or met before and after they were married. In contrast to Vadinho, Amado's handling of Teodora is much less deft. He is a pillar of respectability and virtuous behavior, and if he lacks the animal magnetism of her previous spouse, he makes up for it by providing an orderly, stable and worry-free life for his wife. However, the author teeters on the edge of turning Teodoro into a comic figure.

The novel builds up to a real crescendo before the author brings the novel to an end. Amado blends a range of strands, magic realism, romance, travel writing, cookery (there are recipes for Marinated Crab, Stewed Turtle), ghost story, comedy just as effectively as Flor mixes her Bahia ingredients, and the result is similarly outstanding.

This is not a book to rush and I found it an enjoyable read before bed over a week or so. The nature and style of the novel changes after about 400 pages when the ghostly apparition appears to Flor. This may cause a few problems for readers who prefer realism. I hope, though, that they will keep going because I found its resolution really satisfying. At the end, I was very surprised to learn that this book was first published in 1966.

Occasionally, the novel becomes a little repetitive and, for some readers, Dona Flor's moral and amorous struggles may grow tiresome. However, this was not a problem for me.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Nov 2013 22:31:05 GMT
I will purchase this on The American Amazon site! Thank you for sharing your review. I look forward to this!

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Nov 2013 19:56:23 GMT
Dr R says:
Ginger,

Many thanks for your comment. I hope that you enjoy the book as much as I did,

Roger
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