cover image The Golden Harvest

The Golden Harvest

Jorge Amado. Avon Books, $12.5 (359pp) ISBN 978-0-380-76100-5

At the center of Brazilian writer Amado's novel--originally published in 1944 and translated into English here for the first time--is the cacao tree, whose seeds are used in chocolate-making. Amado ( The Violent Land ) chronicles the effects of a cacao boom--when ``not even gold was as highly prized--and bust on the people of Ilheus, a city in Brazil's south. The fortunes of Ilheus's citizens unfold in sync and counterpoint to cacao's. For exporter Carlos Zude, the boom represents limitless opportunity to make money. For Julieta, his wife, such wealth means illness (``Neurasthenia . . . a disease that comes from not having enough to do'') and with cacao's crash comes her cure. Amado demonstrates an impressive feel for his characters and subject down to the intricacies of splitting cacao pods: ``a badly aimed stroke . . . would send the heavy blade through the pod and cut the hand that held it.'' Yet even his abrupt shifts from narrative past to present tense--intended to telescope the action--can't quicken this novel's plodding pace nor offset its predictable plot. Landers's translation, moreover, renders rural Brazilian Portugese in idioms of the southern U.S.--``I'll learn you some respect''--with awkward effects. (Aug.)