The Book of Chameleons: Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn

“Truth has a habit of being ambiguous… If it were exact, it wouldn’t be human.”book_of_chameleons

This is my first book of the reading challenge and what a wonderful way to begin! A whimsical, lyrical story about truth and memory. 

The book is set in Luanda, Angola. It is narrated by Eulalio, a gecko living in the house of Felix Ventura, an albino who gives people a brand new past. Lives crisscross in this house, as some come in search of new backgrounds, and others try to untangle their old ones. A foreign photographer, Jose Buchmann, wants Ventura to rewrite his past and a minister asks to be descended from heroes. Felix is also visited by his love, Angela Lucia, a woman who travels the world chasing light. Because he is a gecko, Eulalio can go anywhere and listen in to conversations, unobserved by everyone except Felix who confides in him.

The book is full of memories and histories, real and created. The gecko, who was previously a human, dreams of being a human again; Ventura treasures his childhood memories; and Jose Buchmann takes over his newly acquired persona so completely that he goes to the other end of the world looking for his “mother” as if she were really his own. But reality has a way of exploding the delicate fabric of stories.

The author, Jose Agualusa, writes in Portuguese, and The Book of Chameleons is translated by Daniel Hahn, who does a wonderful job of rendering the poetry of the words. An old high school teacher is “subject to melancholic ways and so slender he always seemed to be walking in profile, like an old Egyptian engraving”. A photograph of an old man illuminates “the silence inside him”. This is a book I’d like to reread because I don’t think one reading will yield all its riches.

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One thought on “The Book of Chameleons: Jose Eduardo Agualusa

  1. JoCa

    Sounds wonderful Suroor! To be lent after I’ve got through the pile of books on my bedside table. As predicted, the Luminaries will be keeping me busy for a while yet…

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