Amado claims in his intro/foreword that this is a light-hearted, fun book, and he just hopes someone has fun reading it. In that sense, it's successful. And it reads like a light-hearted book. Statue comes to life, some funny stuff happens, love stories and Carnival dancing, St. Barbara of the Thunder makes sure both the bad guys and the good guys get what's coming to them. Happy endings all around. In the meantime, lots of lewd language, baudy narration, laughing and winking.
It also has some serious cultural commentary to get through. It tells us at the beginning that the reason St. Barbara is visiting Bahia is to make sure a young couple in love is not prevented from marrying. But that's clearly not the truth. There is one main reason she is there, and on secondary one, and neither of them is a love story. One is fight over the heart and soul of a woman, and the other is about the heart and soul of a young clergyman fighting for land workers' rights. The former is about the personal fight between the native and African spiritual culture and the Catholic one superimposed on that base, metaphorically condensed to one crazy woman, Adalgisa. In the latter, the young, liberal clergyman is working against conservative clergy and land holders alike, and only intervention from the mystic saint (and her half-brother, who has joined her) saves his life. He struggles with his grandmother's charge to be "a whole priest".
Okay, so, yes, there are some weirdly detailed sex scenes in here, and lots of dancing and nudity and near-nudity. But I was glad to see that there is also some real content to grapple with. As Amado says, "the opponents were arrayed against each other in the immense struggle sun of by the poet Castro Alves, of fanaticism and tolerance, prejudice and knowledge, of racism and mingling, of tyranny and freedom in the fight between the abicun and the orixa, in the war of Upstairs. This battle is joined everywhere in the world, at every instant. To this day there's no end in sight."