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El vendedor de pasados by Jose Eduardo…
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El vendedor de pasados (original 2004; edition 2009)

by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

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2932238,321 (3.91)74
Member:fvernalte
Title:El vendedor de pasados
Authors:Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Info:Destino (2009), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Angola, independencia, sueños, pasado

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The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (2004)

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» See also 74 mentions

English (18)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
i very much enjoyed this book. the translation was also excellent - i'm a sucker for beautifu and evocativel language and this delivered in spades. I adored the structure and characters, too. Just an all around excellent book. ( )
  tarshaan | Dec 10, 2014 |
The Book of Chameleons is a difficult book to describe, as it touches on many different elements. On the one hand, it’s a book set in present-day Angola – or present-day when the book was published, which is now almost a decade ago. So it gives a very good, realistic image of what the country is like. On the other hand, it’s a satire that enlarges the issues Angola struggles with to bring attention to it. Add in the fact that the book tells the story in a magical realism way and you’ve got a very unique piece of literature.

I do not want to spoil the story of this book by saying too much about it. It’s not a very long book, but it has quite an impact. The story flows very well and despite the sometimes abrupt shifts from chapter to chapter in events there was never a moment I felt lost as to what was happening. But what I love most of all is the main storyteller in this book. Absolutely brilliant choice. The only reason I did not give this book five stars is because of the ending. I was left with a few questions and I personally don’t like that. I understand this is how the author meant to end it, but I’m not convinced it was the best place to stop. If he’d stopped just one chapter before it would have been a better ending for me. But that’s a personal opinion and others may disagree. Either way, I highly recommend this book. ( )
  Samantha_kathy | Apr 27, 2014 |
Despite or maybe because of the poorly translated title, The Book of Chameleons took me by surprise in the absolute best of ways. Entitled O Vendedor de Passados in Portuguese, a more accurate translation might be something like "Merchant of the Past." In fact there are no literal chameleons in the book, although there are some characters whose identities shift and mutate. That includes the narrator who is a gecko except for when appearing from time to time as a man in the simultaneous dreams he has with his friend, the albino vendor of the original work's title. The other major characters include a pair of photographers, one who captures war and the other who captures light. These characters come together in ways unexpected, even unto themselves.

The edition I read contains an interview with the author that I read after finishing the story. I find it very revealing:

First, when asked about what influenced Agualusa as he wrote this book, he replies that "The book is a tribute to Borges. It's a game that I hope Borges would have appreciated. At the same time, it's also a 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 is believed that he died a virgin. Now in my book Borges is reincarnated in Luanda [Angola] 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."

I have not been successful in reading Borges, although I'm willing to give him a try again one day. I don't believe that my failure to know much about Borges hindered my experience of the book, but I think fans of Borges will probably find it does enhance their enjoyment.

Agualusa is also asked the setting of the tale. He explains: "The action takes place at a particularly interesting moment in Angola's history. The country is at peace, at the end of 25 years of civil war, and breathing relatively freely, though it's still too early to talk about democracy; the last elections were held in 1992. In spite of corruption, nepotism, and poor management, the generosity of the soil means the economy is growing. Every other month they announce the discovery of new oil reserves. Before long Angola will overtake Nigeria as the main supplier of black gold south of the Sahara. The same people who built up the Marxist system following independence are now with great enthusiasm defending the market economy. Huge fortunes are quickly made. It is possible to become rich honestly, too. Angolans originally from rural areas - politicians and military men, people with new money - are fighting to be accepted by the arrogant, Portuguese-speaking urban aristocracy. They often have real need of a new past as they seek their place in the future, and in the context of Angola there are plenty of people who can pay - and are prepared to pay - to get one."

That accounting validates the feeling I had as I read that this is a decidedly African work. I made the mistake of initially trying to describe the book to a friend as "magic realism" but that was before I had begun to really grasp what I was reading and that, in fact, it transcends several genres. The Book of Chameleons has lots to say about the nature of memory and identity, and Agualusa's writing is light, effortless, and dreamy. It's ethereal and philosophical, and I loved it. I've never read anything quite like it. The only thing that comes to mind, and I'm not even sure why because it is such a different work is Rikki Durcornet's Entering Fire, which I read a long, long time ago, but I seem to recall it left me with similar feeling that I had entered literary waters that I had never before swum. I am quite impressed. ( )
  mpho3 | Sep 27, 2013 |
“I know now-I think I probably already knew then- that all lives are exceptional.”

Whatever you are reading I bet that it is nothing like this!This book is really little more than a novella as almost half of the pages are blank title pages with only probably 90 pages of actual storyline but don't let this fool you it still has depth and meaning.

The narrator of this book is a gecko who lives on the walls of Felix Ventura's house in Luanda, Angola. Felix Ventura is an albino,a negative if you like, a collector of snippets on other peoples lives and an inventor of pasts, in that he creates new and more exciting pasts and lineage if you are dissatisfied with your own. Into Felix's life comes two strangers, both photographers, one a strange,mysterious foreigner who adopts the identity of one of Felix's invented personas, Jose Buchmann, and a beautiful woman Angela Lucia whose own past is, in her own words, unremarkable. Suddenly Felix's life is turned upside down as reality and fantasy become intermingled.

Colour and light, not surprisingly given that the narrator is a gecko and two of the cetral characters are photographers, are central themes. Jose Buchmann is a war photographer and as such looking for the darkness in human spirit whereas Angela Lucia is interested in light and rainbows. But as light and colour changes so do memories,where minor events in our lives take a far greater precedence than they should whereas major events are almost forgotten. We as humans are constantly reinventing ourselves.

Initially I tried to follow literally the storyline, trying to join the dots, but after a while I realised that "evolution" was the storyline and just went with the flow which made the story more enjoyable.

It is fascinating to read a book from an African author that is so bright and breezy in its outlook rather than doom and despondancy. Yes, there are political undertones with own Angola's own savage struggle for its own identity but there is throughout a sense of comedy and irony which overrides this.

Perhaps the brevity of the book means that its characters lack a little depth but had me guessing as to its ending right to the very end.Then the last 20 or so pages wraps things up nicely. This is one of the most original books that I have read in quite a while and I would certainly recommend it. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 5, 2013 |
This is a shortish novel, which I read as an ebook. It's told from the point of view of a gecko, and it plays not only with the idea of human chameleons but also with the mutability of the past. The gecko dreams of his past life as a human; the owner of the house he lives in sells faked noble pasts for the nouveau riche-and-famous; the past he creates for one such client starts to take on a life of its own; and the real past of another client comes back to bite them all.

Intricate and clever. Occasionally I got mildly tangled about which client was which, especially in the dream sequences, and there was an important woman who I lost track of between the two times she was mentioned - both possibly artefacts of reading in busride-sized chunks. Definitely a book that would reward a reread, in any case.

( )
  zeborah | Jun 5, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jose Eduardo Agualusaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lombard, CécileTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
If I were to be born again, I'd like to be something completely different. I'd quite like to be Norwegian. Or Persian, perhaps. Not Uruguayan, though - that'd feel too much like just moving down the street.
-Jorge Luis Borges
Dedication
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I was born in this house, and grew up here.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Literary fiction of the highest order, philosophical, but author manages to celebrate the corporeal side of human life at the same time.
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"Felix 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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