It has taken me an uncommonly long time to read this book, partly because of limited reading opportunities in the last month, but also because this is a novel that won’t let you rush it. It demands that you take your time over it, savouring every word, every sentence and every image.
First published in the 1960s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is arguably the best known of the novels by Brazilian writer Jorge Amado. Set in Bahia, its premise is a comic one – Dona Flor is married to Vadhino, a gambler, drunkard, cheating, handsome, loveable rogue. When he suddenly collapses and dies during carnival. The macho Valdhino is dressed in drag at the time. Dona Flor is thrown into a deep and lasting mourning, from which she emerges only when she is wooed, over a year later, by bassoon-playing pharmacist Dr. Teodoro Madureira. He is everything that Valdhino is not – honourable, faithful, predictable and solvent.
Dona Flor becomes happy once more, comforted by the reliability of her stable and model marriage to Teodoro – they have sex regularly once on Wednesdays and twice on Saturdays, with an optional encore on the Wednesday. Just over a year into her second marriage, however, Valdhino reappears, visible only to herself and attempts to seduce her. Dona Flor finds herself hopelessly in love with both her husbands and there follows a long battle between the two opposing sides of her personality – the wild, sensual, animalistic side represented by Valdhino and the reserved, respectable, conventional side represented by Teodoro. In this sense Dona Flor also acts as a symbol of Brazilian society torn between its European and African influences.
Clearly discernable in Amado’s writing are the characteristics of Magical Realism that has become a feature of much contemporary South American literature – the fantastical supernatural world and the cast of unlikely, eccentric, yet believable characters. It is easy to see how Amado has influenced, for example, Marquez and even the South American novels of Louis de Bernieres.