Angolan Perspectives

The Book of Chameleons by Jorge Eduardo Agualusa

Today I finished the very interesting Book of Chameleons by Angolan writer Jorge Eduardo Agualusa.  The book is arranged as a collection of vignettes, nearly all through the eyes of a gecko.  The gecko, named Eulalio by the homeowner and protagonist, Felix Ventura, is unique in that he has a lengthy human lifetime of experiences behind him.  The gecko narrates a combination murder mystery/love story of the intertwined lives of a man (Jose Buchmann/Pedro Gouveia), his nemesis (Edmundo Barato dos Reis), his daughter (Angela Lucia) and the daughter’s lover (Felix Ventura).

The central theme of the book is memory and its ability to shape our lives.  Memory can be used in a myriad of ways, but always it is powerful.  The latter point Agualusa demonstrates via the profession of Felix Ventura.  Felix is a special brand of genealogist: he reinvents his clients’ lives, supplying them with both the story and the physical evidence to support it.  For me, this can be viewed as a demonstration of the Angolan social/political climate.  Emerging from years of civil war, Agualusa explains in his interview following the novel, Angolans are currently in a relatively stable state.  Now, instead of dealing with the day to day struggle to survive, they can focus on rebuilding their spiritual lives.  Essentially, this is what Felix Ventura specializes in.  In this way the novel is not just a contemporary African novel, or a contemporary Portguese-language novel, it is a truly Angolan novel at heart.

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