Reading event: Ondjaki

Ondjaki, Transparent City

BookShelf Cafe eBar, October 23 2018:

As with the last “reading” I went to at the eBar (with Michael Adams), this wasn’t really a reading but more an interview, with Ondjaki’s English translator (Stephen Henighan) asking the questions. As with the Adams event, I think this was a better format. In part because it would have been weird hearing an author reading a translation of his own work, but also because interviews are more interesting than readings anyway. I’ve said it before but every time I go to one of these things I’m reminded of how poor most readings are. They only work in the very few cases where the author is a truly talented stage performer as well.

I don’t know how good a reader Ondjaki is, but he was great in conversation. He had some good anecdotes to tell and charm to burn. I even found out a bit about Angola, which admittedly wasn’t hard since I knew absolutely nothing about Angola before this aside from where it is on a map. I didn’t even know Luanda (the setting of Transparent City) was the capital.

There was a question from the floor about the title that I wish there had been follow-up with. I was wondering if Ondjaki meant something like “invisible” when he uses the word “transparent.” The point (or one of the points) he makes in the book is that people are transparent because they’re poor, so are they like the invisible underclass Paul Fussell wrote about, or the invisibility of Ellison’s Invisible Man? That’s the impression I get, but at the same time the main character’s transparency also makes him highly noticeable, someone to gawk at. So maybe something different was meant.

A good show, and well-attended for this neck of the woods. I wish we could have more like it.

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