This is the second book by José Eduardo Agualusa that I have read. I remember from the previous book that I found it very confusing and I thought it was due to the irregular attention I paid to the book. Now that I have read this second book I understand that confusion is part of the reading experience when you read a book by the Angolan writer.
The narrator of this story (or is it real life ?) is a gecko, who travels the walls and the ceilings of the house of his friend Félix Ventura. The name of the gecko is Eulálio (= smooth talker). Ventura is the albino stepson of an antique dealer in Luanda. He has taken over the business of his stepfather (a mulatto), who left Angola at the dawn of independence. He lives in the midst of books, newspapers, magazines and other papery stuff. Ventura has as speciality and he makes good use of all the information he stores in his house.
His speciality is the creation of a past. He creates parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, a history to link a person to a new past and a history that is worthwhile. Important people come to him to get an important past. A past that can travel from Angola, to Portugal and Brasil. A minister needs a shining ancestor. A high civil servant needs a revolutionary past. A bussinessman needs a past that shows that he has always supported the people in power. Ventura himself has created his own past (as a baby he was left at the doorstep of the antique dealer !), he even has a painted portrait of one of his ancestors hanging from the wall.
One day a man comes to Ventura who not only wants another past but also another present, a new name, a new identity, and he is willing to pay lots of money.. This is a nice challenge for Ventura who creates a new identity with all the necessary papers. The man now is José Buchmann, his ancestry goes back to the south of Angola and a South African Boer, who settled there. This new Buchmann start a chase to find out more about his ancestry, especially his mother. He travels to New York, he travels to Cape Town, to find more information about his mother. In this way he continues the search for his new identity and he walks in and out of reality and fiction.
Dreams are part of the unfolding storified reality or the realized story. We delve into the past of gecko who once was a human being.
As a reader I am left with the thought: what is real and what is fiction? Has reality become fiction and as a next step has become reality again? Is there a sharp demarcation between fact and fiction? Do people mould their own past? Adding touches, leaving out other touches?
So this novel is a balancing act between reality and fiction, but there is not sharp line between one and the other. I enjoyed it.
José Eduardo Agualusa – O Vendredor de Passados – 2004