25 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has (finally!) been announced. Here you go:

  • Voice Over by Céline Curiol (trans. Sam Richard)
  • A Blessed Child by Linn Ullman (trans. Sarah Death)
  • The Blue Fox by Sjon (trans. Victoria Cribb)
  • Friendly Fire by A.B. Yehoshua (trans. Stuart Schoffman)
  • My Father’s Wives by José Eduardo Agualusa (trans. Daniel Hahn)
  • The White King by Gyorgy Dragoman (trans. Paul Olchvary)
  • The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (trans. Anne McLeane)
  • Homesick by Eshkol Nevo (trans. Sondra Silverstein)
  • Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (trans. Flora Drew)
  • The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa (trans Stephen Snyder)
  • Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad (trans. Sverre Lyngstad)
  • The Director by Alexander Ahndoril (trans. Sarah Death)
  • The Armies by Euelio Rosero (trans. Anne McLean)
  • How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić‘ (trans. Anthea Bell)
  • The Siege by Ismail Kadare (trans. David Bellos, from the French of Jusuf Vrioni)
  • Night Work by Thomas Glavinic (trans. John Brownjohn)

There’s only two points of contact with the Best Translated Book Award longlist, Celine Curiol’s Voice Over (which made our shortlist) and perennial Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlister, and sometime prizewinner, José Eduardo Agualusa, whose Book of Chameleons we nominated—My Father’s Wives has yet to find an American publisher, I think.

Overall, it’s a strong list, and if you want more info we have reviews of a few of the books from the longlist:

Only two! Looks like we have some work to do.

23 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is it—the last overview of a book from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist. The 10 finalists will be announced on Tuesday . . . Click here for all previous overviews.



The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. (Angola, Simon & Schuster)

Although this is the first (and only, at least so far) book of Agualusa’s to be published in the U.S., he has been making a name for himself and garnering lots of attention and praise from an international audience. Fellow fiction longlist member Antonio Lobo Antunes has called Agualusa, “Without doubt one of the most important Portuguese-language writers of his generation.” And in 2007 he won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The Book of Chameleons.

He now has two additional titles available in the UK from Arcadia, including Creole and the recently released My Father’s Wives. (A review of which will appear in an upcoming issue of Quarterly Conversation.)

Arcadia is also bringing out a fourth—_Estação das Chuvas_ or Rainy Season—and over at Book Trust, translator Daniel Hahn is currently blogging about his experience working on this book. (His posts range from addressing specific translation issues to the book’s jacket copy—the blog is worth checking out, and is updated on a weekly basis.)

In terms of this particular book, it’s necessary to point out right from the start that it’s narrated by a gecko. A gecko who lives with an albino book dealer and “seller of pasts” (the title can be literally translated as “The Genealogy Salesman”) who provides his clients—who are well-off and have a nice future ahead of them, but nothing special in their lineage—with a complete background.

For one of these clients, Felix Ventura doesn’t just create a past, but provides “Jose Buchmann” with a whole new identity, complete with stories of his mother and her death. Against Felix’s advice, Jose decides to look into this past of his, visiting his native home, etc.

This idea of reinvention ties nicely into the Borges quote that opens the novel:

If I were to be born again, I’d like to be something completely different. I’d quite like to be Norwegian. Or Persian, perhaps. Not Uruguayan, though—that’d feel too much like just moving down the street.

In the Simon & Schuster “Reading Group Guide,” Daniel Hahn asks Agualusa about the influence of Borges on the novel:

This book is a tribute to Borges. It’s a game that I hope Borges would have appreciated. At the same time, it’s also a sort of settling up of accounts. I love Borges as a writer, but think that as a man there was always something about him that was closed and obtuse, reactionary even, and he not infrequently expressed opinions that were misogynistic or racist. His relations with women were very complicated—it’s believe that he died a virgin. Now, in my book Borges is reincarnated in Luanda in the body of a gecko. The gecko’s memories correspond to fragments of Borges’s real life story. Somehow I wanted to give Borges a second chance—in my book he makes the most of his opportunities.

Not sure if the book is all that, but E.J. sums up some of the books qualities in his review:

The Book of Chameleons is not the kind of book that can be completely absorbed in a single reading, and Agualusa packs an impressive amount of narrative depth in the short volume. It’s a novel about writing that manages to not be distractingly metafictional, and it’s also a reflection on what the past means in a country that has been repeatedly wounded by war. That he is able to treat these ordinarily difficult subjects with such a deft touch, and so entertainingly, is a credit to his abilities as a writer.

13 October 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Daniel Hahn’s new blog at Booktrust’s Translated Fiction site is a pretty interesting experiment:

About to embark on translating a fourth Agulausa book, Estação das Chuvas, Daniel has kindly agreed to write a diary about the process from start to finish, which will appear exclusively on this website.

Or, in his own words:

In this blog I hope to examine the translation process, working through a novel from my own first launching into a first draft, right up to publication. It’s not a blog about the life of a translator – musings about translation generally, reports of events I’ve attended or readings I’ve given, people I’ve met at launch parties, books I’ve read – but intimately about a single piece of translation work, which I hope will bring you closer to the experience, to the pleasures it brings and the questions it raises.

I am just about to embark on the translation of _Estação das Chuvas _by José Eduardo Agualusa, a wonderful Angolan novelist I’ve been privileged to work with a few times before. This book – our fourth together – presents a search for the story of Angolan poet Lídia do Carmo Ferreira; but it’s also the story of many other people who spin into and out of her life and the narrator’s; and each has his own rich back-story told, and each engages with the setting – the state of their country through the second half of the 20th century.

Should be very interesting for months to come . . .

30 July 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

Over at Conversational Reading, Daniel Whatley has a review of the latest translation of one of my favorites, Jose Eduardo Agualusa:

The Book of Chameleons is not precisely like any novel you’ve likely read, though its antecedents and influences are numerous. Agualusa has mixed his elements with a light hand, balancing his blend with the same earthly poignancy that the gecko Eulalio perceives in the multicolored sunsets of Angola that he cherishes so much.

28 September 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Words Without Borders has an interview with one of my favorite authors, Jose Eduardo Agualusa, and a translation of one of his short stories, A Practical Guide to Levitation.

In Brazil, your work is seen as critical of Angolan society. What’s the significance of this sociological approach in your work?

I’m a critic, in one form or another. In a country like Angola, which is very poor, not completely democratic yet, and without structures that allow for a global debate—I mean, with few independent newspapers, few people who can access the Internet—I believe that the writers have the moral and civic duty of criticism, of questioning, of giving a voice to those who don’t have a voice.

6 August 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Félix Ventura, an albino, is an antique book dealer and a ‘seller of pasts,’ or genealogist as he tells strangers, who fabricates impressive genealogies for those Luandans who feel that their social station demands a more elevated (or more politically correct, given the bloody and recent revolutionary past of Angola) family history. As Félix says:

“I think what I do is really an advanced kind of literature,” he told me conspiratorially. “I create plots, I invent characters, but rather than keeping them trapped in a book I give them life, launching them out into reality.”

Félix’s closest friend (well, really more of a silent interlocutor), and the narrator of the story, is a gecko who lives in his house. The gecko-narrator is a reincarnated human being, who, in addition to telling Félix’s story, provides details of his former life, and, in short chapters, the details of his dreams.

One day, Félix is approached by a photojournalist and war photographer who asks Félix to not only create a past for him, but to create a new identity for him as well. Somewhat reluctantly, Félix creates the identity ‘José Buchmann’, providing the newly dubbed Buchmann with a passport, driver’s license, several photographs of his parents and a detailed family story.

Despite Félix’s admonitions, Buchmann travels to his ‘ancestral home’, seeking evidence of the truth of the fictions that Félix has created. Things begin to take a darker turn when Buchmann comes back with that evidence.

The Book of Chameleons is not the kind of book that can be completely absorbed in a single reading, and Agualusa packs an impressive amount of narrative depth in the short volume. It’s a novel about writing that manages to not be distractingly metafictional, and it’s also a reflection on what the past means in a country that has been repeatedly wounded by war. That he is able to treat these ordinarily difficult subjects with such a deft touch, and so entertainingly, is a credit to his abilities as a writer.

My enthusiasm for The Book of Chameleons is tempered somewhat by the ending. The hazy, pleasingly bewildering atmosphere that Agualusa generates in the first three quarters of the book, which could have sustained me for a long time, is squandered a bit by an ending that happens too quickly, and perhaps too perfectly.

However, I think José Eduardo Agualusa is definitely a writer worth following, especially in light of his excellent Creole, and I’m hopeful that Arcadia, and Daniel Hahn, will continue to bring his books to an English speaking audience.

The Book of Chameleons
José Eduardo Agualusa
translated by Daniel Hahn
Arcadia Books
£11.99

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