Saturday, November 1, 2008

Chameleons, Invented Pasts

from Jose Eduardo Agualusa's _The Book of Chameleons_:

A very tall cage rose up in front of us, broad and deep, out of which from time to time, in faint gusts, burst the happy chirping of birds. Parakeets, waxbills, long-tailed tyrants, peitos-celestes, turacos, turtledoves, bee-eaters. We were sitting on well-worn plastic chairs, in the fragrant shade of a leafy mango tree. To our left ran a low brick wall, painted white. Hugely tall papaya trees laden with fruit swayed beside the wall, languid as a mulatto woman. Looking over to the right, toward the house, were ranks of orange trees, lime trees, guava trees. Farther still was a massive baobab which dominated the orchard. It looked as though it had been put there just to remind me that this was no more than a dream. Pure fiction. Chickens pecked away at the red earth, and in the very green grass, dragging their broods of chicks behind them. (171)


Imagine a young man racing along on his motorcycle, on a minor road. The wind is beating at his face. The young man closes his eyes, and opens his arms wide, just like they do in films, feeling himself completely alive and in communion with the universe. He doesn't see the lorry lunging out from the crossing. He dies happy. Happiness is almost always irresponsible. We're happy for those brief moments when we close our eyes. (94)


"I'm going to tell you an improbably story. I'm going to tell you because I know you won't believe me. I'd like to trade this improbably story, the story of my life, for another story -- one that's simple, and solid. The story of an ordinary man. I'll give you an impossible truth, and you give me a vulgar and believable lie -- OK?" (167)

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