The book of chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agulusa

This was a reread for me I read this just after it came out in 2007 and wondered if on second reading would be as good as the first and I m pleased to say yes this book is firmly in my favourite african books of all time .Jose Eduardo Agualusa is a Angolan  writer he lived in Brazil briefly but now divides his time between Lisbon and  Luanda he has written 7 novels so far this was the 2007 Independent foreign fiction winner .

The book is a series of interlocking stories  or vignettes that are set in modern-day Angola and involve Felix Ventura an albino weaver of new histories for people ,these stories are narrated by a gecko that is a reincarnation of a dead man ,Well as you see this is firmly in magic realism or african mysticism ,Felix is a type fixer helps people rewrite their lives change there histories ,he is also albino which from what little I know in some parts of africa is a bad omen or a good omen but in felix’s case it seems to give him an air of detachment from the people he deals with .The strength of the book lies in the way it deals with Angola’s  past at times violent and how these people look to the future .Felix is so good that one person decides to search into his new past with shocking results .

Once ,when I was in my old human form ,I decided to kill myself .I wanted to die ,completely .I hoped for eternal life ,heaven and hell ,god ,the devil .reincarnation ,all that stuff ,was no more than slowly woven superstition ,devolped over centuries and centuries ont mans greatest terror .There was a gun shop right by my house .

The gecko remember his past life .

Dreams also interweave the books ,Like dreams the new histories rewrites people are never the same and always different .This book is funny in parts and very poignant in others ,such a bright book from such a dark stories and the sadness of Angola’s  past is a real work of art .Like my fellow blogger Kinna rereading this is a timely reminder of the need to read more Lusophilla literature .The book was translated by Daniel Hahn who shared the Independent prize as the translator . for ,me this is a bridge between the african village fiction I love and the latin american magic realism I love ,in parts I remembered Borges or Marquez in others Okri came to mind .



15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Claire (Paperback Reader)
    Jan 10, 2011 @ 18:03:30

    Lovely, Stu. I must reread this myself.


  2. Eva
    Jan 10, 2011 @ 19:02:26

    I read this one and loved it! I didn’t realise Agulusa had other books published; my library only has this one. Sounds like I need to look into ILL possibilities for the future.


  3. Gavin
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 02:06:38

    This one sounds wonderful, Stu. I am adding it to my “for later” list at the library.


  4. Nana Fredua-Agyeman
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 08:10:50

    I can’t agree with you less on this. Though I haven’t read the book yet, other Lusophone books I have read are steeped in magic realism, say Mia Couto’s works. I was with Kinna when she bought hers and this goes straight to the list of books I would be buying next.


  5. amymckie
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 01:51:25

    This sounds fascinating Stu, it’s now on my wish list.


  6. Sarah
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 17:52:16

    I thought this was a wonderful novel when I read it; animals in stories can be cloying, but the gecko is very well-done. Didn’t know he’d written anything else… but shall bear it in mind.


  7. Trackback: Man booker international longlist 2016 my thoughts | Winstonsdad's Blog
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January 2011


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