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Showdown by Jorge Amado

Showdown (1984)

by Jorge Amado

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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187463,175 (3.96)16
  1. 00
    The Violent Land by Jorge Amado (Luisali)
    Luisali: It describes the background of "Showdown": the fights for the possession of the lands in the forests of the Bahia state of Brazil.

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In a word, tired. Definitely not his best. This is the story of the founding of the town of Tocaia Grande, a city in the Bahia backlands of Brazil’s cacao region, and it reads like a South American ‘western’. It starts off well enough and there are flashes of brilliance, but it quickly gets repetitive.

The 75-year-old Amado goes to the well too often with tired old clichés. Aside from almost all characters having an insatiable need for sex, some examples of this: a parrot that swears. Allusions to men so desperate they have sex with animals. Well-hung black men, who are likened to ‘superb animals’. Woman preserving their virginity before marriage by having anal sex. And on and on. There is little subtlety or emotional depth to any of it, and it seems Amado is making the plot up as he goes along, believing himself to be more interesting with these little ‘spicy bits’ than he really is.

The book is also misogynistic. I wrestled with that a bit in Tereza Batista and maybe came in a bit sensitized, but I can’t tell you how many times the word “whore” is used here. Woman are categorized over and over again as virgins or whores, and being a prostitute comes across as a perfectly normal, happy thing, heck, providing a community service. As soon as a teenage girl begins showing signs of maturing, men start salivating over her. A godfather ‘rescues’ a young girl who’s been abused by her own father, only to immediately begin ogling her and going to bed with her too. Lastly, after a woman dies, the biggest thing on people’s (and Amado’s) minds is “who’d popped her cherry”, sparking endless debate and speculation. Ugh.

I would recommend Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands or maybe Tereza Batista, but not Showdown. ( )
1 vote gbill | Nov 1, 2014 |
Showdown tells the tale of the community of Tocaia Grande ("the big ambush," and the original Portuguese title), from the first settlers who arrived shortly after that big ambush to its eventual end; as the reader knows from the initial pages of the novel, a new town called Irisopolis rose at the same location. The story of Irisopolis -- one of "progress" -- "holds no interest," as Amado writes, while the story of Tocaia Grande is a tale of fascinating characters fending for themselves in what could be called Brazil's wild west at what appears to be the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th.

A fight between colonels eager to claim vast swaths of cacao-growing land for themselves leads to the "big ambush" in a lovely fertile valley. After the dead have been buried, cattle drovers realize that this valley provides a shortcut on their regular route. And soon after the drovers start passing though, commerce establishes itself: a man called the Turk who seems to come from Lebanon opens a small store and bar, a formerly enslaved black man who assaulted a white plantation owner opens a blacksmith shop, and numerous prostitutes, invariably called whores, arrive. (This is definitely a bawdy book, with lots of sex and lots of vulgar slang, but it completely fits the characters of the people.) The stories of these people, and how they came to seek a life in Tocaia Grande, are compelling and fascinating.

Not far away is the cacao plantation of the victorious colonel, who has high hopes for the future of his ne'er-do-well son who has succeeded in obtaining a law degree but prefers to spend his time pretending to take additional courses while carousing in Rio de Janeiro to coming home and setting up shop near the plantation (to legally ratify all the unscrupulous land deals). The man who was responsible for the big ambush has been made a captain (a rank bought for him by the colonel, in gratitude) and, while serving as the colonel's devoted bodyguard and right-hand man, takes an interest in the development of Tocaia Grande. Eventually, he encourages several families to settle there, families that have been expelled from the land they were farming because the landowner wanted to use it for cattle or cacao. These families do a little to change the character of Tocaia Grande, but it remains a self-governing town of outlaws and the outcast.

Although there is some plot to the novel, most of it is about the relationships of these vivid and lively characters and life in the village of Tocaia Grande, including serious troubles that befall them. It can be difficult at times to keep track of all the characters, but the sweep of the novel keeps everything moving. It is also, very lightly until the very end, a commentary on the history of Brazil, of the corruption of the large landowners and the political bosses, the decadence of the wealthy, and the exploitation of the poor and darker-skinned. Per Wikipedia, Amado was a member of the Brazilian communist party and lived part of his life in exile. I would say his politics inform the perspective of the novel, but I certainly didn't feel this was a political novel except in the very broadest sense. It is a wonderful story of vivid characters in a fascinating time and place, exciting, thought-provoking, and moving.

One of the most interesting things about this book was that the blacksmith still was very connected to African religious traditions and their translation to Brazilian culture, Candomblé, and was involved, with some of the prostitutes, in various activities related these traditions.

This book, like two other books by Amado, has sat unread on my shelves for 25 or so years. I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner, and I'll definitely be turning to those other novels soon.
7 vote rebeccanyc | Jan 10, 2014 |
It's Jorge Amado, how bad can it be? A strong book, though it's certainly not up to the brilliance of "Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon." ( )
  richardderus | Aug 14, 2008 |
It's a shame that while other Latin American writers have achieved popularity in recent years, Amado remains in relative obscurity. I first encountered his work in my university library where I borrowed and fell in love with "Captains of the Sand." It was extremely good luck (serendipity?) that lead me to my copy of "Showdown" in a used bookstore a few weeks later.

I wish I could adequately describe the sheer sensory *pleasure* it was to read this book for the first time. Reading "Showdown" is like entering an overcrowded bar on a Friday night--rowdy, noisy, with the constant threat of a drunken brawl ready to erupt any second. It tells the story of a town built by hands of bandits and outcasts, a Brazilian equivalent of the Wild West. Cititzens include escaped slaves, prostitues and even a Turk who traveled half-way around the world to build a convenience store in the middle of his Promised Land.

Amado's characters make you laugh out loud in one chapter and break your heart in the next. They face great trials and scandals together and it's amazing how in their world of "immorality" and "lawlessness," they emerge more selfless and noble than they ever imagined themselves to be.

If my house ever catches on fire (knock on wood) and I need to choose only one book to save from my library, it'll be this one. Not bad for a 70 peso book, no? ( )
2 vote kristelako | May 21, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amado, Jorgeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cuijlenborg, Hans vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grechi, ElenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rabassa, GregoryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553346660, Paperback)

In his unanimously praised novel full of sex and adventure, violence and courage, Amado has created a South American "Western" and people it with wonderfully earthy characters from his childhood.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:50 -0400)

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