Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

The Book of Chameleons
by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
translated by Daniel Hahn
3 stars - um, not sure about this one
ALR Green - talking (or at least thinking) gecko

I would have loved reading this in college and spending long hours chatting with my pals about hidden meanings and deep revelations. 

What we have here is a narration by a gecko who lives in Angola with his albino (human) companion, Felix Ventura.

Felix's profession is to create new lives for people. Given Angola's troubled history, there is no dearth of people who need or simply want to assume new identities. Perhaps to recreate themselves as persons who did not commit atrocities, perhaps to forget the horrors brought to bear on them.

The tag line on his business card is "Felix Ventura. Guarantee your children a better past."

So when clients come to call, Felix sends them away with a new genealogy. Place of birth, generations of family, stories for each family member and, of course, a new take on their own lives. Enter client. He's about to be recast as Jose Buchman, native of Chibia, professional photographer, son of Mateus the famous hunter and guide for South Africans and Englishmen who come to Angola in search of thrills.


Then there's the gecko. He's not a fun loving guy, but something of a philosopher. Plus when he dreams, he takes human form and has meaningful encounters with the people who come and go from Felix's home, as well as Felix himself.

Things grow progressively curious as Jose Buchman returns to Felix repeatedly with more and more documentation that supports the notion that his contrived past is actually real. From there on, well, I just can't explain. There are more characters, more mystery, and the book drifts to its conclusion.

Not a story as much as a sensation. The writing is dreamy and seductive, rendering the content less important than the weird state my mind wandered into as I read. Am I making sense? I can't give more stars as this didn't really qualify as entertainment. I would love, however, to meet the author. Anybody who can make prose more like being drugged than telling a tale is cool beans in my book. 

Stick this one on your list for when you need to drift off someplace else. In this case, it's the drifting, not the story, that matters.

1 comment:

  1. A gecko as a philosopher. Well, it's unique. I don't usually enjoy books translated from other languages; they seem to lose something.