A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, Daniel Hahn (Translator)

Jose

Angola is facing testing times just on the brink of its much awaited Independence. The streets are rife with warm blooded rioting youth and factional violence becomes a common place occurrence. Ludovica Fernandes Mano (‘Ludo’) lives in an elite housing complex with her sister Odete and brother in law. An unfortunate incident uproots her existence as both Odete and her husband go missing leaving Ludo alone in the company of a German Shepherd named Phantom. Ludo has a peculiar phobia of open spaces which means that she cannot step out of her house. When militant elements try breaking in into the apartment complex, Ludo literally walls her apartment and consequently herself out of the world’s eye. She spends thirty years in her self-imposed prison before a chance encounter with a see year old boy reacquaints her with humanity.

Ludo’s predicament is an obvious testimony to Jose Eduardo Agualusa’s genuine prowess as an accomplished story teller. There is a languid feel to the book as the story flows unimpeded collecting mysterious characters, connecting myriad places and creating kaleidoscopic images. Ludo is at once impractical, incorrigible and yet innocent. The helplessness of a woman who has an almost inveterate obstinacy in not improving her prospects – an improvement which requires the incredibly simple act of stepping over the threshold of a house – invites a mixed reaction of both empathy and exasperation. The reader is tempted to wring her hands, clench her fists and cry out to Ludo in sheer frustration, imploring her to break down the walls of both concrete and stupidity within which she has chosen to torment not only herself, but also a faithful and unwitting canine. Ludo’s stubborn nature however is her sin as well as her very own atonement. Her confinement is the collective shame and hubris of a wretched society that wallows in its own pretentiousness, prejudice and pity.

The curious case of Karmic justice makes frequent appearances in “The General Theory of Oblivion”. Most of the ‘Karma’ backlashes are in tragicomic sequences that elicit both a sense of amusement and astonishment. Agualusa does a wonderful task of first keeping the characters as distant from each other as possible before making them collide and collude abruptly in circumstances that are so sudden, severe and drastic, that one is forced to pause, compose one’s excitement, take a deep breath and continue with undisguised wonderment and trepidation. People fade away like a calm and passing mist only to reappear with the intensity of a violent thunderstorm, that too when such a manifestation is least expected. There is an unmistakable influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the writing of Agualusa. This characteristic is especially prominent in the imaginative weft and weave of the plots and sub-plots forming the cornerstone of Ludo’s travails and triumphs.

“The General Theory of Oblivion” is a celebration of the act of storytelling. It is also a magnificent product of a man at the pinnacle of his form as an author. A man, who by the time he is done as a writer (which would be a long long time from now) would have accumulated much deserved renown, respect and not surprisingly multiple rewards!

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