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José Eduardo Agualusa: Nação Crioula (Creole)

If this were just a story of the end of slavery in the Portuguese colonies, particularly Angola, it would still be a very fine work but it is much more. It is a love story (of course) but also a portrait of an era, undergoing many changes and not just the end of slavery. Apart from an epilogue, the book consists of letters of the very real Fradique Mendes to his godmother, to the Portuguese writer, Eça de Queiroz and to the very beautiful Ana Olímpia. (The epilogue is a letter from Ana Olímpia to Eça de Queiroz, after Fradique’s death.)

Fradique is a Portuguese aristocrat but he is also a free-thinker and very much opposed to slavery which still continues in Angola (1860s/1870s). He goes to Angola where he falls for the now freed slave and very beautiful Ana Olímpía. Ana Olímpia is married to a wealthy man and, when he dies, she becomes very wealthy. However, his long lost brother turns up and soon discovers that his brother had not formally freed Ana Olímpia so he re-enslaves her. When he hears of this, Fradique, who is in Paris at the time, rushes to Angola and frees her. They escape to Brazil and are presumed dead, as a decoy ship sinks with all hands lost. They set up home there but he eventually returns to Paris where he dies. His love for Ana Olímpia is a key theme of the book.

All through the book, Agualusa’s and Fradique’s bitter hatred of slavery comes through. Fradique and his friends are under constant threat – Fradique is nearly assassinated by a hit man whose life he later accidentally saves. But we also see the growing changes in Europe, excluding Portugal (which Fradique constantly accuses of being backward), particularly France, with continual references to French culture of the day. His references to slavery are not just on moral grounds but he clearly shows that, on economic grounds, it is a failure and it is this failure that keeps Portugal so backward. Sadly Fradique’s correspondence with Eça de Queiroz is not available in English. Fortunately, Agualusa has been able to show us what a fascinating man he was.

Publishing history

First published by T.V Guia Editora in 1997
First published in English by Arcadia 2002