This story written by the Angolan writer Pepetela reads like a Rise and Decline of the Caposso Business Empire.
But, before I continue with the book itself, let me tell you that the real name of the writer is not Pepetela (the word ‘pepetela’ means eyelash). His birthname is Artur Carlos Maurício Pestana dos Santos. I find it easier to remember his name Pepetela. The man was born in the year 1941 in Angola. He studied at the University of Lisbon, and did a degree in engineering (just like one of the characters in his book, well, that young man did study to become an engineer but he studied in Luanda) and was in government.
Let me return to the book. This book was a very pleasant surprise to me. I had never read a book by this Eyelash, but I now know I will turn to his other book on my shelf (after I have dealt with the three piles near my cosy chair.)
The main character is Vladimiro Caposso, a man who invented his own life and origin. He took the name Vladimiro, for in those heady communist days a name that looked like the first name of comrade Lenin would put him in good standing. This is important for Caposso. Judging the times and the prevailing winds to make his decisions to gather wealth, at home and abroad. He starts as a shopassistant, the shop is owned by a Portuguese man, who leaves Angola when times get difficult in 1974. This minute shop is the stepping stone for grand schemes. He becomes an experienced wheeler dealer. He is climbing in the ranks of the party and the businessworld. He does not fear killing people or haunting them. He looks for friends in high places and high churches (if need be).
He is married to a woman who does not understand his ways (often outside marriage). They receive four children. Djamila, his daughter, who will be a medical doctor in the end. His son Ivan (with a communist sounding name at the appropiate time), who has a difficult relationship with his father, but who seems to be able to stand on his own feet. His second daughter Mireille (named after a famous French singer, for the communist times are changing) whom he loves very much, she calls herself ‘a consumer of art’. Their fourth and last child is Yuri who still tries to find his way in life.
We find others as well, like the young man Nacib, who lives in the slums and who does not want to become a carpenter like his father. He wants to be an engineer. He works and studies and he achieves what he had set out to do. He wants to make things, repair things. He is not in life for the money and the accumulation of wealth. Nacib has fallen in love with Mireille.
An old time friend is Sebastíao, who is faithful to his old dreams of a just society and who does not forget the people of Angola.
The trading empire of Caposso rises and declines. Part of the demise is due to his old trading partner, the Pakistani Karim ,and an American Omar. But Caposso also, slowly but surely, falls out of favour with the prevalent powers. He retreats to his extensive farm, that is under siege by the local population.
In a way this book is the history of Caposso, but also the history of Angola in the days of independence. Independence is not an easy gift or commodity. The good, the bad and the ugly all rear their head.
The structure of the book is not a chronological one. Pepetela has startyed in 1992, but moves back to 1974 and forward to 1975, 1978 and so forth, back and forth. Keeping notes and dates helped me tracing the life of Vladimiro Caposso.
This book is a very good read.
Pepetela – Predadores – 2005