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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A formidable fictionised biography of a slave trader
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,...
Published on 2 Mar. 2010 by Alfred J. Kwak

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No what I bought
The book was advertised as a good hardback and I received a battered tie-in movie paperback retitled "Cobra Verde" with Klaus Kinski on its very wrinkled cover.
Published 18 months ago by Rodrigo Fresan


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A formidable fictionised biography of a slave trader, 2 Mar. 2010
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This review is from: The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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.
In 1988 Werner Herzog turned the novella into a movie called Cobra Verde, with Klaus Kinski playing FMdS. Director and star made four previous films and this (final) cooperation was not rated their best. Which proves that the book is always better than the film.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a short novel, 24 May 2010
This review is from: The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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?' and Da Silva would glare down the table and say. `Our future murderers.'"

Within each vivid scene, we experience history, place, culture, and all the emotions, disappointments and achievements of imperfect lives. A jungle vibrates with untamed life around us. Treachery sours and threatens, while disease and passion alike claim their victims. It is a book to be savoured almost line by line. It provides an experience that is moving, technicoloured, but, like all lives, inevitably ephemeral. Like the outlawed trade that endowed riches, it eventually comes to nought, except of course for those who are inadvertently caught up in its net and whose lives were thus utterly changed if, indeed, they survived.

I read The Viceroy Of Ouidah without a bookmark, always starting a few pages before where I had previously left off. Each time, I read through several pages convinced that it was my first time to see them and then I would reach a particularly striking phrase and realise I had been there before. The extent of the detail and complexity of the images present a rain-forest of detail that is completely absorbing. The Viceroy Of Ouidah is thus surely a book worth reading several times.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Painful, 3 July 2012
This review is from: The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Chatwin's 'The Viceroy of Ouidah' follows the life of Francisco Manoel da Silva as he becomes the most powerful slave trader in the world.

There is clarity and pace in Chatwin's style and his rich descriptions of villages, people and moments held me captive. The descriptions are in depth, showing real sensory perception, but are always brief - the narrative continuing without any unnecessary deviations. Within the book Francisco steadily develops from being a violent, angry and maladjusted young man (crucifying cats and pulling the feathers off of live finches)into a more morally aware old man capable of love, pain and empathy for his family.

The book can easily be read as an exploration of utopian dreaming that is limited and ultimately undermined by modern materialistic ideals - Francisco's desires are easily identified with (to live in a big house) and his character engaging.

I would thoroughly recommend this book.
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13 of 17 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
This review is from: The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Memorable, 22 Feb. 2015
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David Hawkins - See all my reviews
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Vivid, dramatic, economic: what's not to like?
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No what I bought, 8 Sept. 2013
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Rodrigo Fresan (Barcelona, Barcelona Spain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Viceroy of Ouidah (Hardcover)
The book was advertised as a good hardback and I received a battered tie-in movie paperback retitled "Cobra Verde" with Klaus Kinski on its very wrinkled cover.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars odd, 2 July 2011
This review is from: The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
An odd little book. It seems dense with ideas and imagery. Not sure I want to read it again though.
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The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics)
The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) by Bruce Chatwin (Paperback - 3 Dec. 1998)
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