Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)
"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
"A subtle beguiling story of shifting identities." Kirkus
"A work of fierce originality." The Independent
"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
"Without doubt one of the most important Portuguese-language writers of his generation." -- Antonio Lobo Antunes
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.
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?
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?