José Eduardo Agualusa’s novel The Book of Chameleons won praise worldwide for its sinuous intertwining of memory and fabrication. His latest, Rainy Season, maintains the standard set by the earlier book. Ostensibly the life story of Lidia do Carmo Ferreira, the Angolan poet who mysteriously disappeared in Luanda in 1992, the canvas quickly broadens and we are presented with a panoramic portrait of Angola, before, during and after its tortured years of civil war. In 1992 UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, having lost Angola’s first legitimate elections, plunged the country back into conflict. This key year serves as a fulcrum, as the story shuttles back to colonial times and forward to the present day.
Characteristic of Agualusa’s elliptical style, the plot is driven by a series of first-person narratives as characters describe their joy on Angola’s independence and their struggles, disillusion and, with the eventual end to the war, their re-ignition of hope. The voices we hear most often are those of a journalist researching the disappearance of Lidia do Carmo Ferreira and of the poet herself, most revealingly in a sequence of transcribed interviews.
This is a book which takes the blood-soaked history of a country and, through love of its people, transfigures that history in the telling. Rainy Season is a luminous, haunting novel that will live long in the memory.
As an appendix, Daniel Hahn has written an illuminating diary of the process of the book’s translation. Both for this spellbinding evocation of the translator’s craft, and for his elegant and pellucid translation, he deserves credit.