Jubiabá, by Jorge Amado
It wasn't until later in his career that Amado developed the surrealistic madcap sensibilities of, say, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands or the languid sensualities of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. Early on his career he was the proverbial Angry Young Man (no, not Billy Joel), an active member of the Brazilian Communist Party, elected to the National Assembly. Jubiabá was first published in 1935, the year Amado graduated Law School.
This was a fascinating book for me, considering that up until now I've been primarily familiar with the later books. The protagonist, Antonio Balduino, is something of a Dickensian figure, drifting through roles as a houseboy, beggar, boxer, troubadour, migrant worker, longshoreman and finally rabble-rouser. Amado's affection for those who live with poverty and injustice is here as in all his works, but this text is both angrier and more hopeful. Balduino is a link between Brazil's African roots, symbolized by the Candomblé priest Jubiabá, and the future, which comes in the form of the labor movement and socialism/communism. With the weight of all these social concerns on the narrative, it doesn't flow quite as smoothly as say, Dona Flor, and it's a much darker, less humorous book. But it's a rewarding read, and Balduino's journey is (sadly) no less relevant today than it was then.