Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon
is a novel by Brazilian author Jorge Amado, first published in 1958. Told in the modernist style, playing with conventional structure and characterizations, it provides a unique look at Brazilian life in the small village of Ilhéus during the years 1925 and 1926. Gabriela is an uneducated mulatto woman—with skin the color of cinnamon and carrying the scent of cloves—whose story is just one of many told in this sweeping tale of life, love, death, and vengeance.
In the spring of 1925, Ilhéus is abuzz when Colonel Jesuíno Mendonça shoots and kills his wife and her lover. As the town grapples with this tragedy, arguing whether the Colonel was justified in his actions, Nacib Saad, the owner of the local bar, is dealing with his own struggle—albeit much less serious. He fears his cook's abrupt decision to move out of the village will affect business at the Vesuvius Bar.
Ilhéus was, at one time, little more than a rural settlement overrun with greedy landowners and ruthless bandits. Nevertheless, it has progressed into a bustling and respectable seaport with its own rich history and traditions. Though a sandbar in the harbor makes it impossible to trade the local cacao to foreign markets, the economy within the town thrives. There are also newspapers and buses in Ilhéus.
However, the thrill of progress is not universal in Ilhéus. Colonel Ramiro Bastos is especially suspicious of the village's new way of life. He is particularly mistrustful of one of the young cacao exporters and newspaper publishers, Mundinho Falcão. When Falcão returns to Ilhéus from a trip to Rio on the day of the double murder, he announces he is going to run for Congress—which seems, to Bastos, even more reason to distrust him.
Gloria, a well-off mistress to a married colonel, hears word of the double murder. Like Mendonça’s wife, Gloria, too, has a jealous and volatile partner. She identifies with the sadness and inevitably of the situation.
Meanwhile, a caravan of migrant workers arrives in Ilhéus searching for work. A migrant named Clemente looks for work on the cacao plantations while his lover, Gabriela, seeks a position as a cook. She crosses paths with Nacib, and though he isn't entirely certain of her ability to handle the job, he hires her on a trial basis.
Then, something unexpected happens. Gabriela charms Nacib, and two days after her hiring, the two become lovers. She eventually proves her talents as a cook as well, and soon the bar is filling with patrons. Many come for the cooking, but many more come just to get a glimpse of Gabriela. Jealous, Nacib proposes marriage as a way to keep her close to him.
Falcão, to the dismay of Bastos and the other colonels, hires an engineer to try to do something about the sandbar that prevents trade. However, the engineer, too, becomes entranced with a local woman, Malvina, the daughter of a colonel. The colonel puts an end to the romance, but Malvina, inspired by the new feelings she has experienced, leaves Ilhéus.
Though the engineer falls from grace, his plans to drain the channel so that ships can pass into and out of the village port come to fruition. Bastos and his allies try to get back at Falcão by burning a massive stockpile of the newspaper he owns. Nevertheless, Falcão has the last laugh when he eventually sways a few of Bastos's men to support his congressional run.
As the story goes on, Gabriela feels repressed by the confines of her marriage to Nacib. She hates being Nacib's wife and takes frequent lovers.
The political turmoil in the village grows direr after Aristóteles Pires, the mayor of a neighboring village and an ally of Bastos, resigns. This shakes Bastos, who fears he is losing his power in Ilhéus. Falcão and Pires are at the harbor when a gunman fires shots at them, wounding Pires. The gunman, a cacao worker named Fagundes, runs and hides in Gabriela and Nacib's house. She and Fagundes had arrived at the village together as part of the migrant caravan. He had been very nice to her; to repay his kindness, she helps him escape.
One day, Nacib catches Gabriela in bed with Bastos's son, Tonico. Nacib beats them both and kicks Gabriela out of the house. Though he may legally have the right to kill both of them, he chooses not to. A powerful friend offers to help Nacib have his marriage invalidated. Not only does this end his problems with Gabriela, it takes the pressure off of him to avenge the wrongs committed by killing his wife and her lover.
However, Nacib finds himself in the same situation he was in at the beginning of the novel. He is without a cook. He hires a French chef who fails to impress, so he approaches Gabriela and asks her to return. Having missed her husband and her job, she accepts the offer. The Vesuvius Bar thrives, and Nacib and Gabriel reignite a romantic relationship.
Gloria, too, finds love with a gentle scholar named Josué. Her colonel, much to her surprise, does not kill her or her new lover. He simply evicts her from his home.
After the sudden death of Bastos, Falcão wins over one of the Colonel's biggest allies. With the new support behind him, Falcão wins the election. Against this backdrop, the first Swedish steamship enters the harbor at Ilhéus.