New Internationalist

The Book of Chameleons

December 2006

In Creole, his only other novel translated into English, José Eduardo Agualusa took the reader on a journey of high adventure and derring-do. The latest book from this Angolan author is a much more sober, considered affair. Nevertheless, The Book of Chameleons packs quite a punch into fewer than 200 pages.

The novel, narrated by a mysterious, all-seeing character, concerns Felix Ventura, an albino living in present-day Luanda. Felix has an unusual profession; he sells histories. If your family line is insufficiently distinguished, Felix will invent a patronage filled with heroes, adventurers and statesmen. As his calling card has it, he will ‘guarantee your children a better past’.

Felix creates histories, complete with passports, photographs and documentary evidence, for all and sundry, including many an ambitious politician wishing to lay claim to a fictitious revolutionary past. Regarding himself as a inventor of dreams, Felix stays aloof from the fantasies he creates for his clients. It is only when a secretive foreign photographer, a government agent and a beautiful woman simultaneously enter his life that he finds his own present – and his own past – intertwined with their stories, real and imagined.

The Book of Chameleons is a poetic, beguiling meditation on truth and storytelling as Agualusa teases the reader into following the narrative into labyrinths and down dark alleys. It is entirely fitting, in a book dealing with the mutability of truth and ambiguity of identity that the plot morphs effortlessly across genre boundaries, from the dreamscapes of magical realism to a gripping political thriller and even, in the unexpected but wholly satisfying climax, a murder mystery.

This column was published in the December 2006 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on The Book of Chameleons

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

...And all is quiet.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

The Book of Chameleons Fact File
Product information by José Eduardo Agualusa translated by Daniel Hahn
Star rating5
Product link
Product number ISBN 1 905147 15 5
Publisher Arcadia

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Books

All Books

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 396

New Internationalist Magazine issue 396
Issue 396

More articles from this issue

  • I was a city boy, a soft Asian

    December 1, 2006

    Prize-winning novelist MG Vassanji on the psychology of mundane corruption.

  • Esma's Secret

    December 1, 2006

    Esma’s Secret written and directed by Jasmila Zbanic

  • Rampage

    December 1, 2006

    Rampage directed by George Gittoes

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.