Ondjaki

Angola

© Daniel Mordzinski

 

 

Ondjaki was born in Luanda in 1977 and is one of the most important Portuguese-language writers in Africa. After studying sociology, he now works on various cinema and film projects. Ondjaki has already been awarded a number of important prizes, among them the prestigious Jabuti Prize. Ondjaki currently lives in Rio de Janeiro. For his novel Os Transparentes he was awarded the Saramago Prize 2013, Prix Transfuge 2015 and Prix Littérature Monde 2016. He has also been voted among the top 39 African writers under the age of 40 for the Africa39 anthology project.

 

 

Ondjaki's writing and storylines are deceptively simple but highly entertaining. One of the most prolific writers I know.

The Guardian

 

 

Ondjaki’s latest novel Os transparentes (“Transparent City”) paints a colourful portrait of the inhabitants of the Angolan capital Luanda and their numerous individual stories. Odonato is sick of seeing so much suffering around and gets so light that his wife has to tie him down to stop him floating away. In his building, he and his neighbours help one another, although or perhaps because they all have their own cross to bear. With quiet irony and much imagination, Ondjaki sketches out an amusing yet shocking picture of today’s Luanda with all its radical contrasts. Creating close-to-life characters and a sense of great authenticity, Ondjaki once again proves his poetic talent. The novel won the Saramago Prize 2013 and is already in its 7th edition in Portugal.

 

Os transparentes owes as much to Franz Kafka and Mikhail Bulgakov as it does to Gabriel García Márquez.

TLS

 

A contemporary masterpiece

The Star, Toronto

 

Ondjaki's living language casts a fiction that seems hardly more imaginary than the exuberant reality of Angola.

Livres Hebdo

 

Os transparentes is a moving fresco that I won’t be able to erase from my memory. I succumbed to its compelling beauty.

Nélida Piñón, jury of the Saramago Prize

 

With this novel, Ondjaki has reached the highest spheres of Angolan literature. It will stay in our minds for a long time.

Ípsilon

 

Dense and caustic.

Expresso

 

 

The plot of AvóDezanove e o Segredo Soviético (“Grandma Dezano-ve and the Soviet Secret”) is set in Praia do Bispo near Luanda, Angola, in the 1980s, when both Cuba and the Soviet Union still had major army contingents there. The young narrator lives here with his grandmother  Agnette, also called AvóDezanove, and several other members of his family. The Russian officer Bilhardov, whom everybody calls simply Botardov because of his Russian pronunciation of the greeting “Boa tarde”, is particularly fond of AvóDezanove and longs to take her back home with him to the Soviet Union.

A huge Soviet-style mausoleum is being built in honour of the deceased head of state Agostinho Neto, and there are rumours that the neighbouring houses will be demolished and the people of Praio do Bispo will have to move. Someone has even heard the word “dynamite” on Botardov's lips. The narrator and his friend Pinduca decide to take action. They sneak into the building site, steal some explosives and dig holes across the site. To ignite the explosion they need alcohol, which their friend Charlita gets for them by stealing a bottle of whisky from her father. Unfortunately, it is not enough to wet all the fuses.

The plan goes awry, yet a few minutes after Pinduca and the narrator leave the mausoleum site there are several explosions, a veritable fire-work display. A letter written by Botardov to AvóDezanove concludes the novel, revealing that it was Botardov who detonated the explosives. He wanted to stop the home of AvóDezanove and her family from being pulled down, and is now returning to the Soviet Union without his great love.

 

 

Bom dia camaradas (“Good Morning, Comrades”) is the loving memory of a childhood in Angola, around 1990. The young narrator, a keen observer, gives an uninhibited and humorous description of the small adventures of everyday life in a city marked by decades of civil war. Comrade Antonio, the young narrator asks the loyal African servant, don’t you think things are better now that the country is free? But comrade Antonio has good memories of the old days; a lot of things were better in the time of the white man. But things are slowly improving, much is happening at school, and at the end of term the beloved Cuban teachers, who are not exactly spoilt by wealth either, will take their leave, since the country will be able to look towards its future by itself.

Childhood is a former time that will always return, says the author. He depicts an Angolan childhood marked by all the country’s difficulties, but also by happiness. This is a book that will especially appeal to younger readers.

The novel Quantas madrugadas tem a noite (“How many Dawns has the Night”) is also set in Luanda. Ondjaki again shows his talent as a story-teller. His figures come to life in the idiom of the oral tradition, with a wealth of word creations and allusions to the country’s regional languages. Provinciality and cosmopolitanism, new riches and abject poverty clash in a city that has arrived in the 21st century although still marked by decades of war and undergoing radical changes.

 

 

O Assobiador (“The Whistler”): There are some books that are surprising because they are so completely unexpected - not in their appearance, but in their method. O Assobiador (The Whistler) is such a book. As a product of Angola, a country riven by civil war and its after-effects for the past 30 years, a novel of such laughter and unmitigated hope comes as a welcome shock. (Richard Bartlett)

One October morning, while it is raining, a young man arrives at a small African village, with a church on one side and a smiling baobab tree on the other. He enters the church and starts whistling. The sound is so beautiful, that the priest is left in tears and the doves listen in absolute silence. And there are the people of the village, like the madman KaLua, the old widow Dona Rebenta in her large wooden bed, the gravedigger KoTimbalo, KeMunuMunu, the travelling salesman and Dissoxi, who fills her house with sea salt and longs for the ocean. For a whole week the reader accompanies these characters, their dreams and their longings, the village’s whisperings and gossiping. All are surrendered to the moods of these melodies. But the whistler himself is affected by the inhabitants of the village. His melodies can rouse happy or sad feelings. The priest announces that the following Sunday mass will be held with the whistler. On the Sunday he bewitches the priest and the people in the church to such an extent, that they fall in a state of trance and unimagined sensuality and zest for life. The mass is followed by an orgiastic celebration. On Monday the whistler and KeMunuMunu leave the village and the reader likewise bids his wistful farewell to a bewitching world.

 

Seldom before has a story of such joy and such hope come from a country of such tragedy and such sorrow.               

Richard Bartlett, AFRICAN REVIEW OF BOOKS

 

Vivid, lyrical, charming, The Whistler has undeniable appeal.

The Complete Review

 

Seldom before has a story of such joy and such hope come from a country of such tragedy and such sorrow.

Richard Bartlett, African Review of Books

 

There is no doubt that Ondjaki is a craftsman, and an adept one at that, who has the uncanny ability at once to shock and lull the reader.

Percy Zvomuya, South Africa

 

 

In Ombela. A Origem das Chuvas (“Ombela. The Origin of the Rains”), Ondjaki addresses the legend of the origin of the rains. It is the story of the goddess Ombela ("rain" in Umbundu), who learned to make rain with her tears.

For some people the rain is blessing. When it comes to greet the north-eastern "winter", it is a sign that the harvest is saved, that the dams will fill again and that life will continue in the rivers fertilizing the dry land. For others, it arrives without warning and with the force of tragedy. Increasingly violent summer rains make the people of the southeast look scared to the sky at the beginning of each new year. In Angola, the goddess Ombela, when crying with sadness, caused the rain to be born. But to do no harm to those who live on earth, Ombela resolved to cry only into the seas. It is not always the right time to be happy and even the gods have their bad days. Ombela's father teaches that crying can be good and that joy can bring forth another kind of tears. Time to smile and time to cry. Ombela learns that there is time for everything and with the help of her father, her sweet and salty tears find other places to go every day.

 

 

What if we all had the gift of changing our bodies throughout our lives? What if flying were possible for all those who had always wanted wings? O Voo do Golfinho (“The Flight of the Little Dolphin”) is the story of a dolphin who wanted to be a bird.

Like his companions, the dolphin grew up in the sea. He liked to play, to swim, to smile. But he always jumped higher than the others. One day, when the sea was very smooth, he jumped even higher and found himself mirrored in the water. To his surprise, his body was different: his beak, his breast and even his gaze looked like a bird. Flying through the air, he discovered that there were other unusual birds like him: the kangaroo-bird, the chameleon-bird, the cat-bird, and other animals that had also dreamt of one day being able to fly and now took delight in the wind, the cloud, the small landscapes seen from above.

"O Voo do Golfinho" is a story about the desire for freedom present in all those who are capable of dreaming - be they plants, animals or men.

 

 

O Leão e o Coelho Saltitão (“The Lion and the Jumping Rabbit”) deals with the universal theme of cunning defeating arrogance, recounted by Ondjaki based on a traditional tale from the Luvale people from eastern Angola. The book tells the origin of the hostility between the Lion, the king of the jungle, and the Rabbit, the smartest animal in the forest: The Great Forest is in a crisis. Due to floods and fires, there is a lack of food for the animals. One day, the Lion, thirsty for fresh and abundant meat, asks advice from his friend, Jumping Rabbit. The Rabbit devises a plan to end the Lion's hunger, but even more so his own: at a feigned burial of the Lion, the drunken mourners, the animals of the Great Forest, are finally killed and dissected by the Lion. But contrary to their agreement, the Lion does not share the feast and leaves the Rabbit only the skins and bones. The Rabbit avenges himself with a trick, which seals the Lion's fate. And that is why, to this day, in the Great Forest and even in the other forests, the Lion and the Rabbit are not great friends.

 

 

The protagonist of Ynari. A menina das cinco tranças (“Ynari. The Girl With Five Plaits”) is very keen to know more about the world. One morning, strolling by the river, she meets a little man from a village far from her own, where there live many creatures that are small outside and big inside, each with a magical gift. For instance, there is the very old man who invents words and the very old woman who destroys words.

On her journey with the little man, Ynari discovers that war is part of the world: five villages in the region are fighting each other, because they lack something that the other villages have. With the help of her five plaits, the girl decides to give the people the words that are missing, showing that children, with magic and tenderness, can change the villages and ideas and end all wars. But Ynari also has a lot to learn from this adventure, like a new sense, full of magic, for an old word: friendship.

In this book Ondjaki uses his talent as a poet and the orality of Angolan Portuguese to tell children about the deep scars that almost thirty years of civil war has left on their country. Some typical terms from African culture are explained in a glossary at the end of the book.

 

 

Rights:

 

Novels:

Os transparentes, Lisbon: Caminho 2012, Círculo de Leitores 2014, 432 p.

Prix Littérature Monde 2016 and Prix Transfuge 2015

Saramago Prize 2013

Already in its 7th edition in Portugal!

Argentina: Letranómada 2015 Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2013 Canada: Biblioasis 2018 Croatia: Hena-Com 2016France: Métailié 2015, pb Points 2017 Germany: Wunderhorn 2015 Greece: AioraMexico: Almadía 2014 USA: Biblioasis 2018

 

AvóDezanove e o segredo do soviético, Lisbon: Caminho 2008, 198 p.

Jabuti Prize 2010

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2009 Colombia: UniandesCanada: Biblioasis 2014France: MétailiéItaly: Il Sirente Poland: Karakter 2013 Slovakia: Portugalsky InstitutUSA: Biblioasis 2014

 

Quantas madrugadas tem a noite, Lisbon: Caminho 2004, 196 p.

Brazil: Leya Italy: Lavoro 2006

 

Bom dia camaradas, Lisbon: Caminho 2003, 138 p.

Argentina: Editorial Puerto de Palos (MacMillan) Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2014 Colombia: UniandesCanada: Biblioasis 2008 Greece: AioraItaly: Iacobelli 2011 Mexico: Almadía 2008 (Spanish world rights)Serbia: Kreativni Centar 2009 Spain: Txalaparta 2010Sweden: Tranan 2010 Switzerland: La Joie de Lire (French rights) 2004, NordSüd 2006 (German rights) Uruguay: Banda Oriental 2005 (Uruguay only)USA: Biblioasis 2008

 

O assobiador, Lisbon: Caminho 2002, 117 p.

Argentina: Letranómada 2011 Italy: Lavoro 2005 Sweden: Tranan 2009UK: Aflame Books 2008

 

 

Stories:

Sonhos azuis pelas esquinas, Lisbon: Caminho 2014, 140 p.

 

Os da minha rua, Lisbon: Caminho 2007, 124 p.

Colombia: Uniandes Switzerland: La Joie de Lire (French rights) 2007

 

E se amanhã o medo, Luanda: INALD 2004, 125 p.

Brazil: Língua Geral Spain: Xordica (Spain only) 2007  

 

Momentos de aqui, Lisbon: Caminho 2001, 144 p.

 

 

Young readers:

O convidador de pirilampos, Lisbon: Caminho 2017, 72 p.

(Ill. by António Jorge Gonçalves)

 

Uma escuridão bonita, Lisbon: Caminho 2013, 110 p.

(Ill. by António Jorge Gonçalves)

 

A bicicleta que tinha bigodes, Lisbon: Caminho 2011, 88 p.

 

 

For children:

Ombela. A origem das chuvas, Lisbon: Caminho 2015, 40 p.

(Ill. by Rachel Caiano)

 

O voo do golfinho, Lisbon: Caminho 2009, 28 p.

(Ill. by Danuta Wojciechowska)

English and Spanish translation available

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2012, 2nd Ed. 2017

 

O leão e o coelho saltitão, Lisbon: Caminho 2008, 41 p.

(Ill. by Rachel Caiano)

 

Ynari. A menina das cinco tranças, Lisbon: Caminho 2004, 43 p.

(Ill. by Danuta Wojciechowska)

French translation available

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2010 Sweden: Tranan 2010

 

 

Poetry:

Dentro de mim faz sul seguido de acto sanguíneo, Lisbon: Caminho 2010, 128 p.

 

Materiais para confecção de um espanador de tristezas, Lisbon: Caminho 2009, 88 p.

 

Há prendisajens com o xão, Lisbon: Caminho 2002, 70 p.

Brazil: Pallas Editora 2011

 

 

Participation in anthologies:

O caso do cadáver,

 Lisbon: Prado 2011

 

Dicionário amoroso da língua portuguesa,

 Lisbon: Casa da Palvra 2009 (Ed. by Marcelo Moutinho)

 

Angola entdecken!

Germany: Arachne Verlag 2015

 

Theatre:

Os vivos, o morto e o peixe frito, Lisbon: Caminho 2014, 240 p.