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Book Review :: A Practical Guide to Levitation by José Eduardo Agualusa

A Practical Guide to Levitation by José Eduardo Agualusa book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

A Practical Guide to Levitation brings together thirty of José Eduardo Aguaulusa’s short stories, some written just last year and some so old he doesn’t remember writing them. Naturally, there is a real variety to be found here; “The President’s Madness,” in which the president of the United States awakes from a coma speaking only Portuguese, has a postmodern flavor, and would not seem out of place in a Donald Barthelme collection. “Elevator Philosophy” and “The Tree That Swallowed Time,” however, are more akin to the light-hearted, acutely sad narratives of Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Agualusa is of Portuguese and Brazillian descent, hailing from Nova Lisboa, Portuguese Angola. Magical Realism is a clear influence on his writing. In fact, Agualusa’s literary idols pop us as characters; In the opening story, Jorge Luis Borges finds himself ambling around in the afterlife. Unfortunately for him, it is not the heavenly Library of Babel he was banking on, but an infinite plantation of banana trees. The grand cosmic surveyor has made a clerical error; Borges has been mistaken for Gabriel Garcia Marquez and finds himself in the latters’ heaven. The final image is of Borges eating banana after banana in hell (he finds no more appropriate name for another man’s paradise) with a wry grin on his face; Garcia Marquez must be in the heaven meant for Borges, and thus in his own sort of down below. A nod to Borges’ famously polemic takes on certain Latin American writers, perhaps. (Roberto Arlt, for example, was described as “an imbecile… extraordinarily uneducated” by his fellow countryman.)

The stories compiled here are brought together by abstract and metaphysical topics, with the backdrop of colonization and civil war an everpresent.

A Practical Guide to Levitation by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. Archipelago Press, August 2023.

Reviewer Bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton, and a range of Latin American writers.