20 February 2008

Bruce Chatwin, The Viceroy of Ouidah, 1980

Chatwin originally intended to write a biography of the 19th Century slave trader Francisco Felix da Souza, but instead turned his research into a work of fiction about a similar Brazilian adventurer, one who sought to control the slave trade that ran through Dahomey’s port city. Chatwin instead was able to produce something that is richly imagined, leaving out very little in terms of atmospheric detail that is somehow able to seep off the page, while at the same time the written tone remains both terse and compelling. The story itself does take time to get going and I found it necessary to re-read the anachronistic first chapter to completely understand the context and perspective of the whole book, which is otherwise completely memorable.  PY

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