“The Book of Chameleons” by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

(Author: José Eduardo Agualusa) + (Year: 2004) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Angola)


“The two guests remained, seated opposite one another. Neither spoke. The silence that hung between them was full of murmurings, of shadows, of things that run along the distance, in some remote time, dark and furtive. Or perhaps not. Perhaps they just remained without speaking, sitting there opposite each other, because they simply had nothing to say, and I merely imagined the rest.”

The moment I started reading this book, I got really excited. The opening exceeded by far my initial expectations. The Book of Chameleons, as the title suggests, is in one way or another, a book about changing lives, told by the narration of a gecko. As you could probably guess, it’s a kooky book. More so, this gecko is, as it turns out, a reincarnation of Jorge Luis Borges (this last part I learned post-factum, but it’s still interesting to know now. I need to read one of the Borges books I’ve had for years.)

The book is sort of a mix between reality and a series of very strange dreams. And usually what happens in reality is a lot more confusing and unclear, than are the gecko’s dreams.

This is also the story of Felix Ventura, a man who creates pasts for people. A man who could make a peasant a king, and a man with bad past, a saint. His most remarkable client is a man with an interesting accent and a distinctive laugh. And the gecko has a lot to say about both.

As interesting as all of this might seem, and it is interesting for myself to re-read these lines and think “But how did it go from this to zero?”, the book lost its momentum not so long after the beginning. I tried and tried to get my enthusiasm back, but it just didn’t work. There were snippets of the story that I enjoyed, mostly small sub-plots which were beautifully satirical and totally insane and absurd, but the majority of the book just couldn’t lead me anywhere. It’s not even that I didn’t like it. It’s that there was nothing to like or dislike, The Book of Chameleons was just… kind of there. It was short, but not so sweet. I hoped for a small adventure, but ended up with only one story which I know I’ll remember – that of the president of Angola who might not have been replaced with a double, or several doubles.

Nevertheless, as part of my world trip of literature, this one served the purpose. Now I’m one step further into my world of books, and I learned some things about Angola. Might not be an expert yet, but I’m a small universe of knowledge richer anyway.


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