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The Book of Chameleons

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  2,251 ratings  ·  297 reviews
The narrator of this novel is a rather charming lizard. He lives on Felix Ventura's living-room wall, Felix, the lizard's friend and hero of the story, is a man who sells pasts - if you don't like yours, he can come up with an new one for you, a new past - full of better memories, with a complete lineage, photos and all."
Paperback, 194 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Arcadia Books (first published 2004)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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BlackOxford
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Past Isn’t What It Was

“Given a choice between life and books, my son, you must choose books!” The gecko-protagonist (he was, he believes, previously human) remembers his father’s advice. Fiction is the only refuge from a reality which is always painful. It is the means of escape from a world in which we can never really be at home (the gecko, on the other hand, is very much at home; in fact he is a so-called house gecko, prized for keeping the home free of nasty bugs like mosquitoes; and,
...more
·Karen·
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to ·Karen· by: Maria Helena (RL friend)
Shelves: africa

Yes, it really is narrated by a gecko, and a gecko who is a reincarnation of Jorge Luis Borges at that. A gecko that laughs. And dreams.

Maria Helena, my Brazilian friend who recommended it to me, informs me that a gecko in Portuguese is osga. Which makes me think of a drum-playing, glass-shattering inmate of a mental hospital.
"Sorry to ask - but could you tell me your name?"
"I have no name," I replied quite frankly. "I am the gecko."
"That's silly. No one is a gecko!"
"You're right. No one's a
...more
Cecily
Very strange novella, and I don't know why it won the awards and plaudits that it did. Am I the boy declaring the emperor has no clothes, or have I missed the point? Either way, I wouldn't recommend spending your own money on it. This should probably be either 1* or 4*, but as I don't know which, I'm compromising on 2*.

THEMES
It is about truth and lies, dreams and reality, memory, predestination, fitting in, and the difference between having a dream and making one, but it's more superficial than
...more
Jim Fonseca
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
We’re in Angola after that country won independence from Portugal. But even though the fighting is over there is still political upset and people trying to settle old scores. There are so many folks who want to run away from their pasts that our main character, an African albino, has a business inventing new past lives for people. He’ll give you old family photos and biographical sketches of your mother, father, siblings and tell you what your childhood was like. Most of the plot in this short ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read a more recent novel by this author earlier this year, A General Theory of Oblivion. Both novels are set after the 1975 revolution in Angola, where the Portuguese felt a shift in power and empire. A General Theory of Oblivion focuses on a woman who walls herself up in her apartment for decades and experiences the conflict through what she hears and in how her food stores disappear; Chameleons tells the story of Felix Ventura, a man who helps people construct new backstories through fake ...more
Rowena
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-lit
“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.” - José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of books written by African writers and I am impressed by the wide range of subject matter and also the different writing styles I’ve encountered. I took a break from reading African lit a
...more
Paul
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-novels
Brief and rather quirky novel set in Angola. The narrator is a gecko living in the house of Felix Ventura. The gecko is articulate and charming; he appears to have been a man in a previous life and he dreams. Felix likes the lizard and talks to him. Felix is an albino who creates memories and a past for people. Come to Felix and he will provide documentation and photographs of grandparents and illustrious ancestors. One client in particular really believes in the past he has been given and ...more
Sue
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Quite a different sort of book, narrated largely by a gecko observing the proceedings from a wall in Felix Ventura's home. He views and comments on Felix's visitors, his odd career, his unusual decor and, in return, Felix shares thoughts with him (anthropomorphizing totally here) about Brazil, Angola, people. But then the gecko may have a human past.....or did Felix make it up for him as a kindness of sorts. This is such an interesting way to present the truths and lies of history, especially in ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Tired of all these novels here with humans as narrators? Then try this one for a change. It's told by a lizard, specifically a spotted house gecko. It was born in, and has never left, this house of an albino who brings home prostitutes (sometimes decent women too) and who is visited by people needing his unique services. This guy, watched by this intrepid lizard-narrator all the times, manufactures the past for a living. People who pay him for it get new sets of identification papers, personal ...more
Jacob Overmark
I will never look at a gecko in the same way again.

I like geckos, they are good company and always paying attention to even the smallest move I make.

I have met African geckos, South American geckos and Asian geckos and all of them had the same air of independence to them, a free spirit so to speak.

No wonder this particular member of the gecko species has a past, we all have, but this one inspires the reader in a very special way.

Would you like a more distinguished, a more noble or flashy family
...more
Missy J
description
Gabela, Angola

What is magical realism? According to Goodreads, magical realism is a fiction genre in which magical elements blend to create a realistic atmosphere that accesses a deeper understanding of reality.


I can't think of any other genre that is so heavily associated with Latin America, or any other exotic place than magical realism. Magic seems to only exist the closer you get to the equator. In this case, we have a lusophone writer from Angola, who retells the story of his country
...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
If you've always dreamed of reading a book narrated by a gecko who happens to be the reincarnation of Jorge Luis Borges, this is your lucky day. Otherwise, skip it.
Jeannette Nikolova
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

Country: Angola

"The two guests remained, seated opposite one another. Neither spoke. The silence that hung between them was full of murmurings, of shadows, of things that run along the distance, in some remote time, dark and furtive. Or perhaps not. Perhaps they just remained without speaking, sitting there opposite each other, because they simply had nothing to say, and I merely imagined the rest."


The moment I started reading this book, I got really
...more
Peter
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“I know now-I think I probably already knew then- that all lives are exceptional.”

Whatever you are reading I bet that it is nothing like this!This book is really little more than a novella as almost half of the pages are blank title pages with only probably 90 pages of actual storyline but don't let this fool you it still has depth and meaning.

The narrator of this book is a gecko who lives on the walls of Felix Ventura's house in Luanda, Angola. Felix Ventura is an albino,a negative if you
...more
Chip Howell
Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a huge fan of science fiction/fantasy, surrealism, irrealism, magical realism (if it's Latin American or Czech) and...well...this voluptuous little novel satisfies so many reading needs: including some I didn't even know I had until they were satisfied and I was left gaping at the sheer amount of literary acrobatics achieved in a mere 180 pages. We are drawn instantly into a rather absurd plot involving memory, history, perception, and reality and its often radical divergences from ...more
Story❤
“Memory is a landscape watched from the window of a moving train. We watch the dawn light break over the acacia trees, the birds pecking at the morning, as though at a fruit. Further off we see the serenity of a river, and the trees embracing its banks. We see the cattle slowly grazing, a couple running, holding hands, children dancing around a football, the ball shining in the sun (another sun). We see the calm lakes where there are ducks swimming, rivers heavy with water where elephants quench ...more
Vit Babenco
The Book of Chameleons is a tale of lost, misplaced and falsified identities…
“As we get old, the only certainty we’re left with is that we will soon be older still. To describe someone as young seems to me to be rather misleading. Someone may be young, yes, but just in the same way that a glass is still intact moments before it shatters on the floor. But excuse my digression – that’s what happens when a gecko starts philosophising…”
An intelligent house gecko – a result of metempsychosis – is a
...more
jeremy
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: translation, fiction
josé eduardo agualusa is angolan and writes in portuguese. though he has authored nearly a dozen works, the book of chameleons is the first to be published in the united states. it was awarded the independent foreign fiction prize in 2007, and has as its origins a short story agualusa wrote for a portuguese newspaper.

the book of chameleons is a deceptively savvy piece of fiction. simplistically told, this is the imaginative tale of felix ventura, a man who, by trade, sells individuals an
...more
Anetq
A fable told by an gecko (not a fly) on the wall living with an albino Angolan, who is in the business of inventing more glorious pasts for others. The two talk only in their dreams. And then there are the others: The man who buys a past and goes out to find proof of it, the photographer of light and an ex-gent who emerges from the sewer - and with him some of Angolas troubled past...
It may sound like Kafka and Borges married happily in this tale, and it's not far off - and while the fable is
...more
K.
Trigger warnings: murder, torture, graphic violence.

This is a very peculiar little book. It's set in Angola, and it's narrated by a gecko. Seriously.

It probably wasn't the best thing to read when I was a) sick, b) exhausted, c) crammed into the back row of a domestic flight to Canberra, and d) hiding in a hotel bathroom at like 10pm because my niece was asleep in the other room.

I remember that I really liked the ending. I remember that I enjoyed the fact that there's an albino character. But
...more
Judy
Sep 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Around the worlders
Recommended to Judy by: Chelsea's shelves
A book of changes as symbolized by the primary narrator, Eulalio, a chameleon. No one is quite what they seem. The albino is colorless as the image of an albino projects, but is he? Angela Lucia, a kind, beautiful woman, Felix Ventura's lover, right? Eva Miller, an interior decorator, or does she even exist?

From the beginning the arrival of pedro Gouveia to consult with Felix Ventura, the inventor of good pasts for those who would "like to have a grandfather with the distinguished bearing of a
...more
Chris
Aug 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: deep-thoughts
Wow. I discovered this book as a result of my daily pageaday calendar. A wildly weird ethereal book and a very quick read. I thought I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez but it's really a homage to Jorges Luis Borges, whom I've never read. Really quirky characters that just fascinate the reader. The narrator is a gecko!! Lots of vivid imagery about light, time, and place. There are dreams and sometimes you are not sure what is real and what is dreamscape. And then sometimes you are wondering is ...more
Milan/zzz
Jun 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, awarded
This is first time I’ve read book from Angolan writer and I’m absolutely stunned. One of the most original work I’ve read this year. This is book about the landscape of memory and its inconsistencies and randomness, about how we can remember things that never happened with extraordinary vividness, and forget things that did. It’s beautiful example of surrealism but new form, very authentic, very poetic. As if you’re on the flying carpet traveling through the time and dreams, prior lives, ...more
Kerfe
Jan 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The narrator of this book is a gecko. In his former life he was a man. Now he lives in Angola, in the house of Felix Ventura, a man who makes his living constructing new pasts for people.

In a series of short vignettes, Agualusa tells a loosely connected chronicle with conversations and dreams. But the book is really about how all humans constantly reinvent who they are. Memories, dreams, stories, photographs, relationships--whether conscious, or unconscious, our context never remains the same.

...more
Carmen
“God gave us dreams so that we can catch a glimpse of the other side,” said Ângela Lúcia. “To talk to our ancestors. To talk to God. And to geckos too, as it turns out.”
“Surely you don’t believe that!?...”
“I most certainly do believe it. I believe in a lot of very strange things, my dear. If only you knew some of the things I believe, you’d look at me like a one-woman freak show. So what did you talk about, then, you and the gecko?”


Fantastic read!
Jim Elkins
Why it is Important for an Author to Live in her Novel

This is a good example of a novel that isn't written with concerted attention. The author's mind wanders, and I can imagine him thinking of many things beside his novel. The book is divided into many sections, some quite short, and I picture him writing a section one morning over coffee (and adding a bit about coffee in the book), then going off to meet friends, then skipping a day, maybe thinking of his novel over dinner... I imagine him
...more
Carolinemawer
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Was this book itself a dream?
It was like slowly getting to know someone with an ocean of back-stories. They're not revealed easily, which makes them even better. It's not immediately obvious how everything fits together, but it surely does. Are the stories real? If they're fabricated, it's done by someone who really truly knows what they're doing. Even the how-it-all-ties-together-surprise was the subtlest, most satisfying slap in the face you can imagine.
Very rarely, I read a book - and want
...more
Shatterlings
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this, the narrator is a gecko and it's all about identity, the way we create ourselves. This sort of magical realism is exactly what I like, full of illusions and surprises. Absolutely fantastic.
SarahJaneSmith
May 17, 2015 marked it as maybe-later-or-never  ·  review of another edition
I managed to read 60 pages of this book and I surrender now. A gecko narrating a story seemed like an interesting concept and was the reason I picked this book up in the first place, but I couldn`t get into it at all. ...more
Mpho3
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Despite or maybe because of the poorly translated title, The Book of Chameleons took me by surprise in the absolute best of ways. Entitled O Vendedor de Passados in Portuguese, a more accurate translation might be something like "Merchant of the Past." In fact there are no literal chameleons in the book, although there are some characters whose identities shift and mutate. That includes the narrator who is a gecko except for when appearing from time to time as a man in the simultaneous dreams he ...more
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«José Eduardo Agualusa [Alves da Cunha] nasceu no Huambo, Angola, em 1960. Estudou Silvicultura e Agronomia em Lisboa, Portugal. Os seus livros estão traduzidos em 25 idiomas.

Escreveu várias peças de teatro: "Geração W", "Aquela Mulher", "Chovem amores na Rua do Matador" e "A Caixa Preta", estas duas últimas juntamente com Mia Couto.

Beneficiou de três bolsas de criação literária: a primeira,
...more
“In your novels do you lie deliberately or just out of ignorance?"

Laughter. A murmur of approval. The writer hesitated a few seconds. Then counter-attacked:

"I'm a liar by vocation," he shouted. "I lie with joy! Literature is the only chance for a true liar to attain any sort of social acceptance."

Then more soberly, he added - his voice lowered - that the principal difference between a dictatorship and a democracy is that in the former there exists only one truth, the truth as imposed by power, while in free countries every man has the right to defend his own version of events.

Truth, he said, is a superstition.”
15 likes
“Happiness is almost always irresponsible.” 12 likes
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