The Two Deaths of Quincas Wateryell

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The Two Deaths of Quincas Wateryell (A Morte e a Morte de Quincas Berro Dágua) is a 1959 Brazilian Modernist novel by Jorge Amado in 1959.

The book tells what happens after Quincas Wateryell, a popular bum who lives in the slums of Bahia is found dead one morning. Two groups of people compete over Quincas's memory: his family, led by his daughter Vanda. To them, Quincas is Joaquim Soares da Cunha, an "exemplary employee of the State Rent Board," who disgraced his family by walking out on them one day, calling Vanda and her mother, Dona Otacilia "vipers" and Vanda's husband Leonardo a "silly ass." Despite all their efforts to hide what really happened, Joaquim Soares da Cunha became Quincas, "vagabond king of the honky-tonks" and "patriarch of the prostitutes." Leonardo attempts to hide it from his coworkers, and Vanda tries to keep it from her friends, but they cannot ignore the reputation that Quincas has earned in the local press.

Now, Vanda, Leonardo, and Quincas's sister Aunt Marocas and brother Eduardo, must tend to the body and give it a proper burial, without attracting too much attention to Quincas and his past. They settle on a simple suit and shoes, but no underwear, because no one will ever see that, and order a casket and candles fit for a church. That night they gather round the casket to keep watch over Quincas, each trying to ignore his learing smile, which reminds them of how much he despised them. Gradually, they go home, leaving Quincas to be watched by his friends from the slum.

The cold reception that the news of Quincas's death is received by his family is juxtaposed by the way his friends from the slum receive the same news. His closest friends are Curió, a store barker in Shoemaker's Hollow, who paints his face like a clown to attract people, Bangs, a towering Black who makes his living as a card shark, Private Martim, a soldier who had been discharged from the army who lived off the generosity of the women he was frequently engaged to, and Breezy, who supported himself catching frogs and selling them to medical researchers for experiments. The four men lead the neighborhood in mourning for Quincas, wailing "Daddy's gone!"

That evening, they come to pay their last respects and end up taking care of the body after the family leaves. They recall the impact that Quincas had on their lives, and remember how he got his curious nickname: once, after taking a swig from a bottle of what he thought was alcohol, he spit it out and roared: "Waaaaaaater!" The all sob for Quincas, and Private Martim worries about how he will now take care of Quitéria, a prostitute who was Quincas's girlfriend.

Left alone at night with the body, the four of them get Quincas to participate in one last party, telling him jokes serving him liquor, and making a gift of a beautiful frog that Breezy had just caught. They then decide to take Quincas on one last trip to the docks to share Cap'n Manuel's delicious fish stew that was Quincas's favorite. On their way to the dock, they pick up a group of prostitutes, including Quitéria, so she can have one last fling with the dead man.

Quincas always loved the sea, and after the friends feed him the stew, they take him on board Cap'n Manuel's boat for a fishing excursion. Suddenly a storm tosses the boat, and they rush for shore, but Quincas's body is tossed overboard. It is a fitting end for Quincas, who loved the sea and once made a "solemn oath" that it "would be the only witness to his final hour."

This short book is a searing indictment of class-ridden Brazilian society in the mid-twentieth century and a touching account of the bonds of true friendship, contrasted with family obligations.


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