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The Book of Chameleons

by

The Book of Chameleons Cover

 

Staff Pick

José Eduardo Agualusa is Angolan and writes in Portuguese. Though he has authored nearly a dozen works, The Book of Chameleons is the first to be published in the United States. It was awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007, and has as its origins a short story Agualusa wrote for a Portuguese newspaper.

The Book of Chameleons is a deceptively savvy piece of fiction. Simplistically told, this is the imaginative tale of Felix Ventura, a man who, by trade, sells individuals an entirely new past, replete with established genealogies and forged credentials. The story is narrated by Eulalio, a gecko whose entire life has been spent within (upon) the walls of Ventura's home. Eulalio's observations propel the story forward, yet he, too, is at the mercy of both chance and consequence. The Book of Chameleons explores identity, memory, and change, as well as Angola's anguished history. The prose is fluid and well-conceived; a rather concise book, Agualusa seemingly enjoyed writing it. Clever mystery, literary thriller, political parable, this book could be classified as many a different genre, yet it successfully defies and exceeds them all.

Agualusa, in an interview, has said about The Book of Chameleons:

This book is a tribute to Borges. It's a game I hope Borges would have appreciated. At the same time, it's a sort of settling-up of accounts. I love Borges as a writer, but think that as a man there was always something about him that was closed and obtuse, reactionary even, and he not infrequently expressed opinions that were misogynistic or racist. His relations with women were very complicated — it's believed that he died a virgin. Now, in my book Borges is reincarnated in Luanda in the body of a gecko. The gecko's memories correspond to fragments of Borges's real-life story. Somehow I wanted to give Borges a second chance — in my book he makes the most of his opportunities.

Recommended by Jeremy, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Félix Ventura trades in an unusual commodity; he is a dealer in memories, clandestinely selling new pasts to people whose futures are secure and who lack only a good lineage to complete their lives. In this completely original murder mystery, where people are not who they seem and the briefest of connections leads to the forging of entirely new histories, a bookish albino, a beautiful woman, a mysterious foreigner, and a witty talking lizard come together to discover the truth of their lives. Set in Angola, Agualusa's tale darts from tormented past to dream-filled present with a lightness that belies the savage history of a country in which many have something to forget — and to hide.

A brilliant American debut by one of the most lauded writers in the Portuguese-speaking world, this is a beautifully written and always surprising tale of race, truth, and the transformative power of creativity.

Review:

"Lovers of stylish literary fiction will rejoice at this charming tale by Angolan writer Agualusa. The elegantly translated story is narrated by a house gecko named Eullio, who in brief, vignette-like chapters, reminisces on his life (and past life) and observes the home of Flix Ventura, an albino Angolan who makes his living selling fabricated aristocratic pasts to newly successful citizens of the war-torn former Portuguese colony. Photojournalist Jos Buchmann pushes Flix's occupation into harsh reality when Jos looks into the past Flix has created for him, and the story shudders to a climax when Flix's allegedly fictitious history collides with reality. Eullio is a lovable narrator, alternately sardonic and wistful; his dreams are filled with regret and powerlessness. Flix is an equally sympathetic subject, complicated by his loneliness, his fondness for prostitutes, his insistence on the honor of his trade despite its scalawag nature, and a late-blooming sweet love story. The novel's themes of identity, truth and happiness are nicely handled and span both the political and the personal. It's very touching, in a refined way. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

The coldblooded narrator of Jose Eduardo Agualusa's novel is a gecko inhabited by the reincarnated spirit of Jorge Luis Borges. The Argentine master's name is never mentioned: Agualusa, a native Angolan steeped in Latin American literature, lets readers in on the joke in an interview appended to the book; but those unfamiliar with Borges may have trouble appreciating it. Still, "The Book of Chameleons"... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"Cross J. M. Coetzee with Gabriel García Márquez and you've got José Eduardo Agualusa, Portugal's next candidate for the Nobel Prize." Alan Kaufman, author of Matches

Review:

"A subtle beguiling story of shifting identities." Kirkus

Review:

"A work of fierce originality." The Independent

Review:

"A book as brisk as a thriller and as hot and alarming as the most powerful kind of dream." Michael Pye, author of The Pieces from Berlin

About the Author

José Eduardo Agualusa was born in Huambo, Angola, in 1960. He has published seven novels, including Creole, which was awarded the Portuguese Grand Prize for Literature and is a bestseller in seven countries. The Book of Chameleons won The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Stacia V, October 21, 2014 (view all comments by Stacia V)
A complete delight. I'm charmed.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
Trevor Donaldson, March 10, 2009 (view all comments by Trevor Donaldson)
Aqualusa weaves a tale of relaxed subterfuge and false identity, with the dream states of a household gecko. The reader can kick back with Felix Bendito, an Albino who creates pasts for his customers. These customers in turn pay him a good sum for his services. The dreams of the household gecko are neither frightening nor dull, but full of colors and imagery of things past and present. This is a very colorful and easy to read novel that is both short, sweet, and tinged with mystery.
On the negative, the book was full of blank pages that could have been filled or consolidated making me feel as if the publisher was attempting to fatten the book for sales.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(2 of 12 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 2 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9781416573517
Author:
Agualusa, Jose Eduardo
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Translator:
Hahn, Daniel
Author:
sa, Jose Eduardo
Author:
Hahn, Daniel
Author:
Agualu
Subject:
General
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Memory
Subject:
Fraud
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
20080631
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
192
Dimensions:
8.44 x 5.5 in 8.715 oz

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
Religion » Comparative Religion » General

The Book of Chameleons New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$13.99 In Stock
Product details 192 pages Simon & Schuster - English 9781416573517 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

José Eduardo Agualusa is Angolan and writes in Portuguese. Though he has authored nearly a dozen works, The Book of Chameleons is the first to be published in the United States. It was awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007, and has as its origins a short story Agualusa wrote for a Portuguese newspaper.

The Book of Chameleons is a deceptively savvy piece of fiction. Simplistically told, this is the imaginative tale of Felix Ventura, a man who, by trade, sells individuals an entirely new past, replete with established genealogies and forged credentials. The story is narrated by Eulalio, a gecko whose entire life has been spent within (upon) the walls of Ventura's home. Eulalio's observations propel the story forward, yet he, too, is at the mercy of both chance and consequence. The Book of Chameleons explores identity, memory, and change, as well as Angola's anguished history. The prose is fluid and well-conceived; a rather concise book, Agualusa seemingly enjoyed writing it. Clever mystery, literary thriller, political parable, this book could be classified as many a different genre, yet it successfully defies and exceeds them all.

Agualusa, in an interview, has said about The Book of Chameleons:

This book is a tribute to Borges. It's a game I hope Borges would have appreciated. At the same time, it's a sort of settling-up of accounts. I love Borges as a writer, but think that as a man there was always something about him that was closed and obtuse, reactionary even, and he not infrequently expressed opinions that were misogynistic or racist. His relations with women were very complicated — it's believed that he died a virgin. Now, in my book Borges is reincarnated in Luanda in the body of a gecko. The gecko's memories correspond to fragments of Borges's real-life story. Somehow I wanted to give Borges a second chance — in my book he makes the most of his opportunities.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Lovers of stylish literary fiction will rejoice at this charming tale by Angolan writer Agualusa. The elegantly translated story is narrated by a house gecko named Eullio, who in brief, vignette-like chapters, reminisces on his life (and past life) and observes the home of Flix Ventura, an albino Angolan who makes his living selling fabricated aristocratic pasts to newly successful citizens of the war-torn former Portuguese colony. Photojournalist Jos Buchmann pushes Flix's occupation into harsh reality when Jos looks into the past Flix has created for him, and the story shudders to a climax when Flix's allegedly fictitious history collides with reality. Eullio is a lovable narrator, alternately sardonic and wistful; his dreams are filled with regret and powerlessness. Flix is an equally sympathetic subject, complicated by his loneliness, his fondness for prostitutes, his insistence on the honor of his trade despite its scalawag nature, and a late-blooming sweet love story. The novel's themes of identity, truth and happiness are nicely handled and span both the political and the personal. It's very touching, in a refined way. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Cross J. M. Coetzee with Gabriel García Márquez and you've got José Eduardo Agualusa, Portugal's next candidate for the Nobel Prize."
"Review" by , "A subtle beguiling story of shifting identities."
"Review" by , "A work of fierce originality."
"Review" by , "A book as brisk as a thriller and as hot and alarming as the most powerful kind of dream."
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