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The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Bruce Chatwin
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Dec 1998 Vintage Classics
In 1812, Francisco Manoel da Silva, escaping a life of poverty in Brazil, sailed to the African kingdom of Dahomey, determined to make his fortune in the slave trade. Armed with nothing but an iron will, he became a man of substance in Ouidah and the founder of a remarkable dynasty. His one remaining ambition is to return to Brazil in triumph, but his friendship with the mad, mercurial king of Dahomey is fraught with danger and threatens his dream.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (3 Dec 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099769611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099769613
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A masterpiece which everybody should read...It deserves to become a classic" (Auberon Waugh)

"No lunacy too weird, no irony too oblique, heart too tender, mischief too black, to dodge the sharp angle of his eye. He slips from the hilarious to the macabre, he celebrates the comedy and plumbs the tragedy of Francisco's life - and of Africa - in prose that grabs you with its precision" (Observer)

"Outstanding, finely written" (Independent)

"It is hard to know how posterity will regard this remarkable writer, but his terse, honed language was built to last" (Colin Thubron Sunday Times)

Book Description

'Quite simply dazzling' Observer

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In only 101 pages, Bruce Chatwin (BC) evokes the life and times of Francisco Manoel da Silva (FMdS), who was a Brazilian slave trader in the African kingdom of Dahomey from 1812 until his death in 1857. His brilliant novella starts with a powerful description of the annual celebration of his passing away in Benin by his many present-day rather impoverished descendents, who today form branches of a true Diaspora. They hope, some are convinced, that the supposed tremendous richness accumulated by the founder of the dynasty, is hidden, buried somewhere. BC's novella is a dazzling piece of reading and in today's terms politically incorrect, as it should be: each character is simply an extension of the era's principal protagonists' world views about the need for human sacrifice, for warfare, for profit from dealing in human bodies.
E.g., the Dahomey king argues: tradition rules there shall be war every dry season. What to do with captives? Behead them to reassure the elders, the Dead Kings that I have not gone soft in the head, or sell them in one piece to FMdS to live on in Brazil? There is a lot of madness in this book.
BC's previous job at Sotheby's guarantees total authenticity for the novella's visual impact by effortlessly naming the artefacts en vogue at the time, the imported brands, fabrics, household items, luxuries, tools, pieces of dress, etc. Similarly, BC has done exhaustive archival and field research in Britain, Brazil and Benin, as Dahomey is called today. In fact, during his early research there, he was mistaken for a mercenary after a failed coup and almost executed. In his posthumously published collection of journalistic writing called What Am I Doing Here, he admits the incident delayed the writing of this truly fabulous novella.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a short novel 24 May 2010
Bruce Chatwin's The Viceroy Of Ouidah masquerades as a small book. In 50,000 words or so, the author presents a fictionalised life that has been embroidered from truth. History, hyper-reality, the supernatural and the surreal and the cocktail that creates the heady mix through which strands of story filter. Overall the experience is much bigger than the slim book suggests.

We meet Francisco Manuel da Silva, a Brazilian born in the country's north-east in the latter part of the eighteenth century. We learn a little of his background and then we follow him to Dahomey in West Africa, the modern Benin. He finds a place in society, consorts with kings, encounters amazons and conjoins with local culture. He also becomes a slave trader, making his considerable fortune by moving ship-loads of a cargo whose human identity is denied, as if it were merely the collateral damage of mercantilism. Francisco Manuel survives, prospers and procreates with abandon. He fathers a lineage of varied hue, a small army of males to keep the name alive and further complicate identity, and a near race of females who inherit the anonymity of their gender.

But The Viceroy of Ouidah is much more than a linear tale of a life. Bruce Chatwin's vivid prose presents a multiplicity of minutiae, associations, conflicts and concordances. Each pithy paragraph could be a novel in itself if it were not so utterly poetic. A random example will suffice to give a flavour.

"Often the Brazilian captains had to wait weeks before the coast was clear but their host spared no expense to entertain them. His dining room was lit with a set of silver candelabra; behind each chair stood a serving girl, naked to the waist, with a white napkin folded on her arm. Sometimes a drunk would shout out, `What are these women?
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great picture of what Africa has been in 19th 28 Feb 1999
By A Customer
I've never been very attracted by Chatwin journals but this novel really convinced me of his qualities as a writer. The book sheds light on a region of the world we often discover for the violence of its riots and revolts. The plot is intriguing; what remains, though, is the portrait of a land where different populations and cultures never made an effort to really comprehend each other. Really intense.
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