Books: José Eduardo Agualusa

These two books are too interconnected for me to review them separately, I would end up repeating most things (and not only because they are by the same author). That’s why I opted for this alternating format for my thoughts.


The author: José Eduardo Agualusa.
I had heard about this Angolan author (inclusive in Portuguese classes)
but had never read anything by him before.

Book #1: Milagrario Pessoal, as published by Dom Quixote, 184 pages.
The title: it would translate in English as “Personal Book of Miracles”
if I’m not wrong (Alex and Nymeth, if you come by,
feel free to correct me!)
About/Reason for reading: I couldn’t resist a novel whose protagonist is a linguist who studies neologisms entering the Portuguese language!

Book #2: Catalogo de Sombras, as published by Dom Quixote, 151 pages
The title: this one would translate as “Catalogue of Shadows”, I think (again, Alex and Nymeth, feel free to correct me!)
About/Reason for reading: this  is a short story collection and I only picked it up because I saw it in the library just after reading book #1 and I was more than willing to read more by this author.
I don’t usually read short stories, because I tend to like them less (and that was the case with this book too).

My thoughts: I loved book #1. Loved it. I had to keep my Portuguese dictionary on my lap while reading, and check the meaning of so many words, and even so I am sure there were plenty of things that went right over my head, but I still loved it.
Beside the linguist herself, it contains words borrowed from the language of birds, songs that could be sung to make love encounters more passionate, lists of the most beautiful words of the Portuguese language and how people choose them, a poet reading Camões from the white pages of an empty book as a form of resistance during civil war… and much more. Although there’s much that was lost on me, I finished book #1 with happiness tears in my eyes for how beautiful it was.
So imagine my surprise when I approached book #2 and found out that:
the first story was based on a very similar storyline;
and the second story was actually a collection of segments that had been developed into full chapters in book #1!
(Oh, I should have said it: book #1 is the most recent of the two.)
I didn’t know what to think, I still do not.
In a way, it was like reading those authors that write endless books about the same (usually autobiographic) subject. It seemed like he didn’t have new ideas so he decided to develop old ones. Still, I appreciated that he did, because the idea was great and the outcome was book #1.
At the same time, the two short stories were good on their own, too. As were most of those that followed. Not great, but I still have to find a “great” (to me) short story. But good, yes, they were. Imaginative and well written.
And I particularly loved the one about a man who suddenly starts hearing colors, hearing rainbows and sunsets and sunflowers (apparently, sunflowers have a yellow, high-pitched cry).

Random thought: Agualusa seems to like the word azul (“blue”)

Read book #1 if: if you read Portuguese, do give it a chance. (I’m not sure this applies to Portuguese mother tongue readers, though. It may depend on how much you are interested in language as such. As a foreigner, and a learner, I am still very focused on language, but things that made me marvel may be a given for you.) If it ever gets translated (which I doubt, because the language is such a strong component that it’s almost untranslatable), I’d recommend it to word geeks and magical realism lovers.

Read book #2 if: if you are looking for a different take on magical realism
(i.e., non-South American magical realism), this could help.
I also need to say that, while I don’t enjoy short stories that much, this is one of the best collections I read in years. As short stories go, I would read Agualusa over Gaiman any time (enough said).

Book #1 counts as: Global Reading Challenge – Africa

Book #2 counts as: bonus review for
Global Reading Challenge – Africa 🙂

Book: Archanes

The book: Archanes, by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

The edition: Italian (original) edition as published by Mondadori, 201 pages

About the book & general thoughts: this is a collection of five short stories, very different one from the other. The general impression I had, was that each story would make a good novel in itself; as short stories they had too many threads to pull together nicely. They were overdone — or underdone, maybe. I was left with a general feeling of the author saying: “I can’t be bothered to think these ideas through”.

Language & writing: compared with previous works I read from this author, his prose seems more mature; I especially appreciated how he has left behind the overdetailed and preciously-worded descriptions. I spotted two awful (really awful) mistakes (and I always wonder how a published author can make such errors/horrors, and how a published book can be printed without anyone catching them) — enough to make me cringe and throw the book aside for some time!

About Archanes: halfway between an archaeological mystery (which Manfredi is well-versed in) and a study in thriller settings. Way too many things to count with in such a short story. It is set in the village of the same name in Crete, which I visited, and that may be the only reason why we bought this book: the place and the island are finely described.

About Limes: Manfredi’s other talent are historical settings, and here he describes the situation in Italy under Langobard rule. This is the only story I really liked — it includes a nicely done historical setting, a well-rendered feeling of the unstable situation at that time, and also enough family mysteries to make it a page-turner.

About Gli dei dell’impero (The Empire’s Gods): staging the Italian police force against the theft of archaeological remains, it is a quick adventure story.

About Midget War and Millennium Arena: in these two last stories, Manfredi tries his hand at two completely new genres: a thriller and a spy story. He’d better stick with what he’s good at: these two read as badly drafted film scripts.

Counts as: Travel with books – Greece; Travel with books – Rome; Italy in books.

This review is part of the
Loving the Reviews Challenge Extravaganza
at Sniffly Kitty’s Mostly Books blog