September 16, 1985 12:00 PM

by Jorge Amado

The relationship between politics and art is at the center of this deviously engaging novel. It is 1940, and António Bruno—a beloved Brazilian poet whose romantic, almost pornographic verses are enhanced by his own sybaritic reputation—dies from a heart attack. His demise leaves vacant a seat in the prestigious Brazilian Academy of Letters, a seat that was once reserved for members of the army and that now has one clear, odious candidate: Col. Agnaldo Sampaio Pereira, chief of security of the new dictatorship. Opposition to the colonel’s impending Academy election is immediate. At first the opposition seems only a sentimental tribute to the late poet and author of such lines as “O Callipygian Venus with the beautiful behind.” As one foe of Pereira puts the situation however: “It’s a question of keeping an individual who’s committed to Nazism and everything it represents, who’s involved in the torture of political prisoners, in censorship that has hounded writers and journalists, a man who is the very opposite of Bruno…from succeeding him…” With the battle lines thus drawn, Amado, Brazil’s premier novelist, spins a tale that is humorous, allegorical and full of uncanny twists. Readers familiar with his other works will detect a difference here. Amado subtitled this book A Fable to Kindle a Hope. If is more overtly didactic than his popular novels, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. But while its images may not seem as magical as in some of his other writing, the prose is nonetheless lyrical. Amado’s moral bespeaks such a passionate humanism that it could in fact kindle a hope bright enough to read by. (Godine, $15.95)

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