cover image A Practical Guide to Levitation

A Practical Guide to Levitation

Jose Eduardo Agualusa, trans. from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. Archipelago, $22 (256p) ISBN 978-1-953861-62-7

This astonishing collection by Angolan writer Agualusa (The Society of Reluctant Dreamers) brims with imagination. In the opener, “Borges in Hell,” the eponymous Argentinian writer arrives in an afterlife stocked with banana trees but no books, prompting Borges to believe he was mistakenly assigned to the one designed for Gabriel García Márquez (“The other man’s paradise was now his hell,” Borges reflects). Inversions also feature in “The President’s Madness,” when the president of the U.S. wakes up from a coma and can only speak Portuguese; and “The Night They Arrested Santa Claus,” in which an elderly Albino man reinvents himself as St. Nick. There are also political fables, like “The Unbelievable Yet True Story of D. Nicolau Água-Rosada,” about a Kongolese prince who betrays his nation and is miraculously saved from avenging patriots. Agualusa’s often mordantly funny, as in the title story of a coffin salesman who’s offered instruction in the art of levitation and turns it down, content to keep his life the way it is. (As the salesman’s grandfather used to joke about the reliability of the family business: “Only one thing worries me: immortality.”) Agualusa’s wondrous tales balance fantasy with skillful historical storytelling and a palpable distaste for the politics of oppression. (July)