My Father's Wives, by José Eduardo Agualusa, follows the journey of Laurentina who, having been raised in Portugal by two loving parents, suddenly discovers at her mother's deathbed that the people who raised her are not her birth parents after all. Instead, she is the youngest daughter of an Angolan musician named Faustino Manso and the fifteen-year-old daughter of an Indian trader. Laurentina learns that Manso has seven wives and eighteen children in various African countries. Faustino Manso, as various characters in the book agree, "was a man who liked women."
As fate would have it, Faustino dies just as Laurentina discovers his existence. Since she can't meet him, Laurentina sets out to meet his wives and other children in order to make a documentary film about the experience. As you might expect, along the way many truths and many lies are uncovered. In the words of Dário, the man Laurentina believed was her father, "How many truths make up a lie?"
Running parallel to Laurentina's tale is a nonfiction story about the author's travels as he develops the book's characters and constructs the plot. Agualusa writes about his experience, for example, seeing two Mucubal women: "The taller of the women cannot have been more than sixteen years old, a narrow waist, coloured bracelets around her fine golden wrists...". Later, in a fictional portion of the book, Laurentina sees two Mucubal women: "The taller of the women cannot have been more than fifteen years old, a narrow waist, a waist I wish I could have again, coloured bracelets around her fine golden wrists." It's an interesting look into the author's creative process.
I loved the beauty of Agualusa's prose, which means that his translator, Daniel Hahn, also deserves a great deal of credit. I was occasionally confused, however, at the changes in narrator, which sometimes occurred more than once within a chapter. Overall, though, I thought this was a lovely book and I'm happy to have found it.
My Father's Wives didn't give me too many ideas for an Angolan dish to cook this week. At one point, the author eats a plate of bean stew, but the bean stew recipes I found generally involved chicken and sausage. Instead, I decided to make an Angolan vegetable soup from a recipe on the "Culinary Adventures with Camilla" website. This website points out that Angola was formerly a Portuguese colony, and this dish combines the flavors of both countries. I skipped the fennel, but added some cabbage I had left over from last weekend's Andorran trinxat. With pearl couscous, sweet potatoes, other vegetables, and an array of spices, this soup was the perfect choice for the rainy weekend!
The people of Angola suffered the effects of war and political conflicts for much of the latter half of the twentieth century, both in their fight for independence from Portugal and in the civil war that followed. One by-product of these wars is that millions of land mines remain buried in Angola, posing a serious threat to the people there. To assist in the removal of these deadly weapons, my donation this week has gone to MAG America to support their work in Angola.
NEXT STOP: ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA