The last pleasure of long-distance flight these days is the chance to read in relative solitude. And when the book is as enthralling as Jorge Amado's "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" (Avon paperback, $7.99, 622 pages), solitude pretty much is ensured. Not even a wailing baby in the seat behind is likely to distract you from Amado's humane and hilarious yarn of a Brazilian cooking-school owner who is widowed early on and eventually remarries a distinguished pharmacist who is the exact opposite of her first roguish husband.
Here's how the book opens: "Not because it is a confused day of grief, sadness, and weeping is this any excuse for a wake not to be held with due ceremony. If the mistress of the house, sobbing and fainting, beside herself, or dead in the coffin, cannot assume the duties herself, then some relative or friend should take charge of the rite, for one is not going to turn out into the dawn, at times in the winter cold, the devoted friends who have spent the night with the deceased, without eating or drinking."
While Dona Flor is the proprietor of a cooking school - the Cooking School of Savor and Art - and while the book reflects Amado's lusty appreciation of all aspects of Brazilian culture, with frequent references to such dishes as feijoada (black beans cooked with pork sausage, dried beef and peppers) and vatapa (chicken stewed in coconut milk with sliced shrimp, onion, red pepper and olive oil), this isn't a food book, but an impassioned, engaging and humorous story that may seem pedestrian on the surface but continually entertains and provokes. Rare is the paragraph that doesn't elicit at least a quiet chuckle. Hope I didn't disturb any fellow passengers on that flight to Denver this past weekend.