Wednesday, 23 April 2014


The Book of Chameleons          


                           Jose Eduardo Agualusa                                                                                                              

ISBN: 978-1-90812-901-7

This book comes with a promise of something different from the usual book that one can pick up; it is a story told by the chameleon. This lizard will tell the story of what happens, from its point of view, whilst hanging from the various walls of a house in Angola. Inside this house, past histories are re-arranged, false genealogical ancestors can be found, and all with all the accompanying paperwork, for a price.

I fear that I might not do this novel justice in its content and underlying subtext. I don’t think I know enough about the political history of Angola to fully appreciate the analogies that Agualusa as trying to twist into the text, although I was very aware that there were many there to be found. For example, one character goes off to find the gravestones of his newly invented ancestors, and another, a character with a political background, having been given a false grandparent with a famous status in the city, roundly complained that the local school should be renamed to reflect the importance of the said politician. It seemed not to have occurred to this political figure that everything he as saying, everything he as basing his on importance on, was based on a lie. It just suited him at the time. I have no doubt whatsoever, that wherever in the world you are reading this, you will be able to recognise somebody in the public arena with the same outlook. What I don’t know is whether the author put himself in danger by writing in this style. If he did, then his bravery is paradoxically counterpointed by the idea that the chameleon should be the author. The lizard keeps telling us how much of a coward it is.

As for the book itself, it is an easy flowing, without any overt political overtones, without, seemingly, any morals with which to warn us of; easy to follow text that saunters along quite happily until the end, when we get an ‘oooh’ moment. That surprise is not so much the content, but the very fact that it was there. It really snuck up on me, but like most of these times, it serves to link all the strands of the plot and finishes the story, neatly tied up with no loose ends.  In lots of ways, an ordinary, run of the mill novel, but, as I said at the beginning, I fear I’m missing many more subtle points that are lying under the headline text. Therefore, I do apologise anyone from the region who is exasperated with me, and to the author too for my nondescript review; please don’t let me put you off, the talking lizard is waiting to tell you a tale...

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