Captains of the Sands, p.1Jorge Amado
CAPTAINS OF THE SANDS
JORGE AMADO (1912–2001), the son of a cocoa planter, was born in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which he would portray in more than thirty novels. His first novels, published when he was still a teenager, dramatize the class struggles of workers on Bahian cocoa plantations. Amado was later exiled for his leftist politics, but his novels would always have a strong political perspective. Not until Amado returned to Brazil in the 1950s did he write his acclaimed novels Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (the basis for the successful film and Broadway musical of the same name), which display a lighter, more comic approach than his overtly political novels. One of the most renowned writers of the Latin American boom of the 1960s, Amado has had his work translated into more than forty-five languages.
GREGORY RABASSA is a National Book Award–winning translator whose English-language versions of works by Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar, and Jorge Amado have become classics in their own right. He was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1922, and in 2006 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. He is Professor Emeritus of Romance Languages and Comparative Literature at Queens College, City University of New York.
COLM TÓIBÍN’s novels include The Master and Brooklyn. Tóibín worked as a journalist in Latin America in the 1980s. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University.
Captains of the Sands
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Translation by Gregory Rabassa first published in the United States of America by Avon Books,
a division of The Hearst Corporation 1988
This edition with an introduction by Colm Tóibín published in Penguin Books 2013
Copyright © Grapiuna – Grapiuna Producoes Artisticas Ltda., 2008
Translation copyright © Gregory Rabassa, 1988
Introduction copyright © Colm Tóibín, 2013
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Originally published in Portuguese as Capitães da areia by Livraria Jose Olympio Editora, São Paulo, 1937
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Amado, Jorge, 1912–2001.
[Capitães da areia. English]
Captains of the sands / Jorge Amado ; translated by Gregory Rabassa ;introduction by Colm Toibin.
pages cm.—(Penguin classics)
Previously published: New York, N.Y. : Avon, c1988.
Translated from Portuguese.
I. Rabassa, Gregory, translator. II. Title.
Introduction by COLM TÓIBÍN
CAPTAINS OF THE SANDS
Letters to the Editor
In The Moonlight in an Old Abandoned Warehouse
Night with The “Captains of The Sands”
The Pitangueiras Stop
The Lights of the Carrousel
The Ogun Adventure
God Grins Like A Little Black Boy
The Night of Great Peace, The Great Peace in Your Eyes
Daughter of the Smallpox Man
Dora, Sister and Sweetheart
Night of Great Peace
Like A Star with Blond Hair
Song of Bahia, Song of Freedom
The Spinster’s Love Song
Hitching A Ride on A Train
Like A Circus Trapeze Artist
The Drums Resound Like Trumpets of War
…A Homeland and a Family
Postface: The Bahian Novels
In his book on Nathaniel Hawthorne, written in 1879, Henry James offered a list of what New England could not offer a novelist: “No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentleman, no palaces, no castles, nor manor, nor old country houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages, nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great Universities nor public schools—no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class—no Epsom nor Ascot.” But James understood, at least some of the time, that such a lack could, in a strange way, be as much a gift as a problem for a novelist. “The American knows,” he wrote, “that a good deal remains.” Seven years earlier, in a letter to an American friend, he had suggested that the richness of Europe was something perhaps the American novelist did not need: “It’s a complex fate being an American, and one of the responsibilities it entails is fighting against a superstitious valuation of Europe.”
In his efforts to root his fiction in a world of settled manners, however, James understood that he would have to possess the old world rather than embrace the new one. Since he believed in structure and form in the novel, and in the orderly and stately architecture of fiction, he lived merely with the shadow of what “the American knows” and feasted instead on the substance of what England, France, and Italy offered him. He relished in his fiction a thousand years of slow progress, a sense of order and continuity.
In listing what was absent from the world that Hawthorne inherited, James was suggesting a kind of wilderness, a place where nothing orderly, including an orderly novel, could easily grow. He did not wish to write disorderly novels.
As James was working, however, literacy and literary culture began to spread in places where civility was merely a rumor, or a sour joke. In such countries as Ireland and Brazil, for example, as poverty and social disruption reigned, and respect for form and continuity was sorely missing, the novel took on a new and strange shape.
This caused unease, to say the least. It took more than eight years, for example, for Dubliners, James Joyce’s first collection of stories, to find a publisher willing to take the risk of bringing out a book with stark and relentless images of the sexual and social underside of a city. So, too, it took more than a decade for Joyce’s Ulysses, after its initial publication in Paris in 1922, to become freely available in the English-speaking world. The enemies were not only the censors but also snobbish elements in the literary community itself, including Professor Mahaffy of Trinity College Dublin, who said: “James Joyce is a living argument in defence of my contention that it was a mistake to establish a separate university for the aborigines of this island—for the corner boys who spit in the Liffey.” Or Virginia Woolf, who noted in her diary that she found Ulysses “an illiterate, underbred book…the book of a self-taught working man.
The year after Henry James published his book on Hawthorne, the Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis (1839–1908), a close contemporary of James’s—Elizabeth Bishop, in her book on Brazil, ranked him and James as the two greatest novelists of their age in the Americas—began his novel Epitaph of a Small Winner with a chapter called “The Death of the Author.” The novel begins: “I hesitated some time, not knowing whether to open these memoirs at the beginning or at the end, i.e., whether to start with my birth or with my death. Granted, the usual practice is to begin with one’s birth, but two considerations led me to adopt a different method: the first is that properly speaking, I am a deceased writer not in the sense of one who has written and is now deceased, but of one who has died and is now writing, a writer for whom the grave was really a new cradle; the second is that the book would thus gain in merriment and novelty.”
This tone seems a century away from James, being close to the tone of certain, and indeed uncertain, playful texts produced in both the eighteenth century and the twentieth century by such figures as Laurence Sterne (whom Machado de Assis had read) and Flann O’Brien or Jorge Luis Borges. What Epitaph of a Small Winner lacks, of course, is what Machado de Assis did not have as his hinterland—a world of manners and morals that had developed enough to give characters choices and chances, or a sense of time itself as something that brought easy progress and gradual change, or a sense of a structured and ordered society in which a character could grow and develop and in which a narrative could grow too to satisfy a large and leisured readership.
Machado de Assis and other such Brazilian novelists as João Guimerães Rosa (1908–1968), Jorge Amado (1912–2001), and Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) came to play with language and tone and structure rather than offer representation for the same reason that such writers as Joyce, Flann O’Brien, and Samuel Beckett in Ireland set out to destroy the line in narrative and replace it with the circle or the jagged form. Fiction for them was broken glass, a cracked mirror, a way of reflecting and engendering distortion rather than offering a window on the world or creating a mirror in which the readers could see their own world in the world of the characters. As Terry Eagleton has pointed out, language in Ireland “is weapon, dissemblance, seduction, apologia—anything, in fact, but representational.” The same is true also in Brazil, where the language of fiction has been a high-wire performance rather than a way of stabilizing the world below.
In a 1932 essay called “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges attempted to formulate what this disruptive tone in fiction did, or where it came from. The South American writer, he wrote, by virtue of being both close to and distant from the center of Western culture, had more “rights” to Western culture than anyone in any Western nation. He compared this enriching sense of proximity and distance to the position of Jewish and Irish writers. “It was enough,” he wrote, “the fact of feeling Irish, different, to become innovators within English culture. I believe that Argentine writers, and South American writers in general, are in an analogous situation; we can handle all the European themes, handle them without superstition, but with an irreverence that can have, and does have, fortunate consequences.”
Thus Jorge Amado inherited the full tradition of European literature and felt free to do as he pleased with it. His social vision and his membership in the Communist Party meant he had no interest in dramatizing or inventing the lives of the fragile middle classes in Brazil. In his novel Captains of the Sands, he took what he needed from Charles Dickens and used also the form of the folktale, the picaresque novel, and the documentary novel. Like many novelists from the eighteenth century, and like his predecessor Machado de Assis, he did not bother too much with character development or a seamless structure. He wrote as a storyteller might speak. He used episodes rather than chapters. He merged a tone that was almost naive with a social vision that was challenging with a form that took its bearings from collage as much as from the orderly house of fiction.
Amado also set out to take the glamour away from Salvador de Bahia. Bahia was the first capital of Brazil, the place to which slaves were brought from Africa as early as 1535. It was around Bahia that the plantation system first grew. As Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote: “The world, gorged with gold, began to hunger after sugar; and sugar took a lot of slaves.” Many of the slaves had skills, and some were literate, and much of the culture they brought from Africa survived in hybrid form into the twentieth century. The beautiful old colonial city, with its waterfront life and its magnificent baroque architecture and many churches, survived too. The capital was transferred to Rio in 1763, and slowly, as São Paulo became the coffee capital, there was no more reason to build in Bahia. Thus its architecture was preserved, and so, too, its folk art, its quasi-religious folk traditions—candomblé, macumba, capoeira—and its exotic feel.
Part of the drama in Captains of the Sands arises from Amado’s refusal to romanticize, to evoke the city of Bahia in all its exquisite beauty. The novel is not written for tourists; it is written to give substance to shadows, to re-create the under-life of the city, to offer the dispossessed and reviled an inner life. There is a lovely, hard materialist vision at the heart of the novel; it veers between sociology and mythmaking. There is a battle going on within it between Amado’s mission and his art; at times the mission wins a skirmish as his characters emerge golden and good; at other times the poverty of their lives diminishes any real possibility of choice or chance or development for them. Yet at other times their individuality emerges with artistry and sympathy.
Amado was writing to save his country’s soul. His characters are the poor, the abandoned who live from stealing. The novel’s hero, Pedro Bala, who is the leader of the group of youths at the heart of the book, is given a powerful sense of who he is and what he has inherited from the father he never met, who died leading a strike. But he is one of the few in the novel who is given a personal history. The rest of the Captains of the Sands inhabit the present tense, but with a sense always of the story of slavery and past cruelty as an essential, if mixed-up, part of their lives. Their motives are often grubby, their instincts mean, but there are also moments when their mission in the world is exalted, as when they set about rescuing Ogun the icon from the hands of the police. They believe in magic and in an older justice, one that came from Africa with the slaves. They also have talent, a talent for loyalty and love, as much as for robbing and deceiving. One of them, the Professor, even has talent as an artist.
The form that Amado chose for the book is close to fable, or to unstructured storytelling. The gravity of the book arises from his use of elemental forces, not only good and evil, wealth and poverty, the body and the spirit, but also the wind and the sea, the stars and the night, and indeed God or a force beyond and above the dull, repressive forces that seem to control the streets of Bahia during the day. There are passages where Amado draws what happens to his waifs in broad outline, but in other sections he manages a sort of razor-sharp realism. The scene where Pedro Bala is condemned to solitary confinement and begins to suffer from thirst is one of the most memorable and best-rendered accounts of being in prison we have in any literature. So, too, the scenes where smallpox and fever take their toll have a genuine edge of pain. Also, the scenes where the Captains of the Sands manage to fool the rich of the city and get away with it would have made Henry Fielding or Charles Dickens proud.
It is interesting that in his postface, written in Mexico in 1937, Amado writes, “I tried to set down the total life of my State,” echoing Joyce, who wrote of his alter ego Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” In both cases the writer came from a world that lacked the richness and the textures Henry Ja
For Aydano do Couto Ferraz, José Olímpio,
José Américo de Almeida, João Nascimento Filho,
and for Anísio Teixeira, the friend of children
We used to play games of forfeit.
We used to ride in an ox cart.
We lived in a haunted house.
We chatted with girls and magicians.
You found Bahia huge and mysterious.
The poetry in this book comes from you.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
THE SINISTER ADVENTURES OF THE “CAPTAINS OF THE SANDS”—CITY INFESTED BY CHILDREN WHO LIVE BY STEALING—ACTIONS URGED ON THE PART OF THE JUVENILE JUDGE AND CHIEF OF POLICE—ANOTHER ATTACK YESTERDAY
Several times now this newspaper, which is without a doubt the organ of the most legitimate aspirations of the Bahian people, has carried news of the criminal activities of the “Captains of the Sands,” the name by which a group of assaulting and thieving children who infest our city is known. These children who have dedicated themselves to a frightful career of crime at such an early age have no set abode or, at least, their abode has not been located. As has not been located either, the place where they hide the product of their attacks, which have become daily, calling for immediate action on the part of the juvenile judge or the chief of police.
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