Jose Agualusa on Thinking Like a Gecko

By Bill Marx

In World Books podcast #13 I talk to Angolan writer José Agualusa, who has garnered considerable praise in the Portuguese-speaking world, including comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

José Eduardo Agualusa at the Brooklyn Book Fair with Dedi Felman, his American editor, behind him.

He has had three novels translated into English, each by by Daniel Hahn, but Agualusa has yet to make much of a mark here, though that may change with a major American publisher pushing “The Book of Chameleons,” which won the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

The book is a slyly sophisticated entertainment that combines a send-up of magic realism – the narrator is a gecko that is the reincarnation of Jorgé Luis Borges – with a stark political conflict. The lizard is the pet of a black albino who specializes in inventing new identities for people who want to have their corrupt pasts erased in post-Civil War Angola. One man’s reinvention leads to a violent confrontation between truth and illusion, all under the watchful eye of the curious gecko.

Here is a bit of the lizard, named Eulalio, from the lovely opening paragraph:

This is a living house. A living, breathing house. I hear it sighing, all night long. The wide brick and wooden walls are always cool, even in the heat of the day when the sun has silenced the birds, lashed at the trees, and begun to melt the asphalt. I slip across them like a tick on its host’s skin. As I hold them I feel a heart beating. Mine, perhaps or that of the house. It hardly matters. It does me good. It makes me feel safe

Agualusa’s English is halting at times but he laughs easily and his ideas come across clearly: the conversation ranged from his decision to choose a lizard as a narrator to the political responsibilities of a writer in Angola. His latest novel, “My Father’s Wives,” was published recently in England.
You can order the book via the web from Arcadia Books. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet — I will write up a review once I have.

1 Comment

  1. Geoff on October 21, 2008 at 11:36 am

    I recently read The Book of Chameleons (an odd title, since the original means something like The Genealogy Seller, and the main character is a gecko, not a chameleon). It reminded me of another Lusophone writer from Africa, the Mozambican Mia Couto.

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