23. A General Theory of Oblivion by J. E. Agualusa

Hello and welcome to Kristina’s Book Review Podcast. I’m Kristina. In this episode of the podcast I’m going to review A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa.

I have to confess for the first time I read a book written by an Angolan author. And I liked it. I have to make another confession. Before that novel I knew nothing about the Angolan war of independence from Portugal. Now I’m proud to say I’ve repaired a gap in my knowledge.

The name of the author of this book is José Eduardo Agualusa who is an Angolan journalist and writer of Portuguese descent. His books have been translated into twenty-five languages, most notably into English. Much of his writing focuses on the history of Angola. And the book in question is not an exception.

It is set in Luanda, the Angolan capital, during the aftermath of Angola’s independence from Portugal. The war for independence is shown from the perspective of a Portuguese woman named Ludo, short for Ludovica, who barricades herself in her brother-in-law’s Luandan apartment for three decades, terrified by the way events were progressing. How did she brick herself in? Ludo put up the wall, separating the apartment from the rest of the building. She provided sustenance for herself by growing vegetables and luring pigeons into the apartment through a window. And she burnt furniture and books to provide heat. The only information that she received about the outside world comes from the radio, or the conversations of neighbours which she overheard. While she was locked in, she kept a diary in notebooks, but when she ran out she used charcoal to write on the walls.

Let me tell you more about Ludo. She is agoraphobic, came from Aveiro, Portugal to Luanda because her sister got married an Angolan mining engineer. She moves into their apartment and they start to live together. Until her sister and brother-in-law disappear at the height of the war. That’s how she left alone – A Portuguese woman who is foreign to everything. A foreign body in this city. Well, almost alone, except for company of her dog named Phantom. Her past was terrifying (I won’t give any spoilers away), you’ll have to take my word for it. Yet her future is promising. Again, take it from me.

As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, Ludo enjoys her isolation from people. It’s a very dramatic and fascinating story with lots of characters whose lives are intertwined with each other. Highly recommended, especially if you are an introvert, which I am. By the way, that novel, written in 2012 and translated in 2015, was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. Another reason to read. I really think it deserves to be read.

I’m looking forward to your responses in the comment section on my website which is krisland.ru.

And as always, I conclude my book review podcast with one of my favorite Bette Davis’ lines from the film called “Cabin in the cotton”: “I’d like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair. Bye.”