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Book 30 Completed

May 24, 2010

This is a strange-beautiful-intellectual-poetic-fascinating-sad piece of literature.

It also succeeded in confusing me. (Which is fine because I said good-bye to my beloved LOST last night; and the finale confused me so much that I dreamed about the show’s ending. It was just a giant night of confusion.)

I don’t think I’ll ruin anything by telling future readers that the gecko narrator is a reincarnated Jorge Luis Borges. Agualusa has a Q&A in the back of the book (which was insightful and useful for unwrapping the intricacies of the plot/characters) and he says that The Book of Chameleons is one long tribute to Borges. I’ve never read Borges, but I think Agualusa has succeeded in creating an interest for me.

The whole conceit of the book reeled me in — despite the oddities — and the beautiful commentary about our lives and our memories was made even more powerful by the knowledge that the author was attempting to capture the essence of a country. Angola is a rich country trying to come to terms with its past. Agualusa mentions in the author Q&A that if any country in Africa had people who could pay for a different past, it would be Angolans. But beyond that, the book is very touching — even if the book is somewhat plotless up until the last twenty pages. Unlike other strange books I’ve read during the challenge, I am more forgiving for this one. Maybe it was because I felt the gecko was an honest character; does that sound strange?

The book opens up some interesting dialogue about reincarnation in general. There is a part where the gecko is lamenting the fact that he can no longer read books in his new life; of course, a reptile — lacking in opposable thumbs — can’t just grab Dickens down off the shelf. But he talks about skimming the pages of books left open on desks, or reading the spines of the books and trying to recreate those stories in his head. Coming back as a gecko is a punishment. Agualusa is very clear in communicating what he thinks Borges did wrong in his life to warrant this fate.

This book was a fun little discovery. I hope more people pick it up. It’s original, it makes you think, and the language is impeccable.

PS. The title page has a little quote from Borges that I, apparently not too observant, missed. It reads: “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.” Well, he didn’t specifically mention African lizard.

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