José Eduardo Agualusa

Agualusa portrait photo


José Eduardo Agualusa began his writing career as a poet and has since written some eighteen novels, four of which have been translated into English by Daniel Hahn, with The Book of Chameleons winning the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.  He writes a monthly column in the Portuguese magazine LER and writes weekly for the Angolan newspaper A Capital. He also hosts a radio programme on RDP África promoting Angolan poetry and music.  He said in an interview:

“African writers are in a curious position: Our readers are not in our own countries but in Europe. We write for foreigners, and it changes the way we write. As African authors, we are more like translators—always trying to translate our reality for the foreign reader.”

Featured Reading Group Title:

Teoria Geral do Esquecimento (A General Theory of Forgetting)

Teoria Geral do Esquecimento cover

The protagonist of A General Theory of Forgetting, Ludovica Fernandes Mano, or Ludo as she is known, is uprooted from Portugal and transplanted to Angola when her devoted sister marries an Angolan mining engineer. The agoraphobia she experienced in Portugal (for reasons that emerge later in the novel) becomes worse in Luanda, and when her sister and brother-in-law mysteriously disappear, she is left to cope in the vast apartment, alone but for her albino Alsatian dog, Ghost. Her solitary life is encircled by all kinds of other lives, of which she knows nothing, but which intertwine with each other and, ultimately, with hers.

Jeremías Carrasco is a mercenary who miraculously survives a firing squad, and is rescued by Madalena who ‘rehomes’ him in a remote Angolan village, where he becomes a campaigner for tribal rights, and who finally confesses to Ludo that he was involved in her sister’s disappearance.

The novel is as full of deaths and resurrections as Angola’s history, and gives the reader a vivid picture of life in Angola from the 1970s to the present day.

More information:

  • This title features as part of our Spring 2013 Portuguese reading group.
  • Words without Borders have published a lovely story by Agualusa ‘If Nothing Else Helps, Read Clarice’, translated by our publisher Stefan Tobler, here and an interview with Agualusa here.
  • Download Margaret Jull Costa’s sample translation from A General Theory of Forgetting.



  1. Jethro says:

    Glad to see this on the list – one of the best books I’ve read for a long time. Well-crafted, controlled storytelling, and yet at the same time free and wild, reflecting the place and the time of its setting. It’s similar to other Agualusa novels in that it’s fun and witty and wise, and it’s similar to a good book from the last reading group, ‘O teu rostro será o último’, in that each chapter works as a standalone story as well as weaving in with others.

    At the end of chapter 24, it’s said that ‘um homem com uma boa história é quase um rei.’ ‘Teoria Geral…’ is packed full of good stories, so I guess that makes Agualusa king.

  2. An attractively quiet narrative voice and a concentration on noting the world, rather than explaining it, make an engaging read, and the occasional surprises in the language augur well for what might follow.

    The sense of the non-human world encroaching is effective; I’d wish to read on.


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