The Viceroy Of Ouidah (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 3 Dec 1998
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"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)
'Quite simply dazzling' ObserverSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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?Read more ›
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 reason and 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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 on 8 Sept. 2013 by Rodrigo Fresan