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 🙂