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The Book of Chameleons


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Reading Group Guide


Setting the scene
"This is quite evidently an Angolan novel,"Agualusa says in the preceding interview. How important do you think the setting is to this story? Does it have a particularly African flavor, or is the setting just incidental?

Narrative voice
One of the more unusual and daring aspects of The Book of Chameleons is that its narrative voice is the voice of a gecko - so does it work? Is the effect troubling? Sympathetic?

"This is clearly a book about memory and its traps, and about the construction of identities,"Agualusa says; but what do you feel he has to say about them? Is he just exploring, or is he trying to make a particular point?

The narrative is interspersed with dreams, and with memories of past lives. Does all this work? What does it add? In the interview Agualusa explains where the details of the gecko's past life have come from. Does knowing this help you?

There has long been a difference between two schools of translation - one believing that a translation should be invisible, another that it should be conspicuous (that is, you should always be aware you're reading a translation). What do you make of the translation of The Book of Chameleons?

Agualusa has outlined his influences as the Latin American writers García Márquez,Vargas Llosa, Borges, Fonseca and Amado. Does this book remind you of anything else you've read?

The book is a murder mystery, and also a love story; it is fantasy and also political realism; one review described it as "part thriller, part mystical," another simply as "genre-dissolving." Do you see this difficulty in pinning it down as a strength or a weakness? Does that make it harder to engage with properly, or all the more interesting for it?

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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.
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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.
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Product Details

Agualusa, Jose Eduardo
Simon & Schuster
Hahn, Daniel
sa, Jose Eduardo
Hahn, Daniel
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
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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