Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Society of Reluctant Dreamers

José Eduardo Agualusa

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Society of Reluctant Dreamers

Title: The Society of Reluctant Dreamers
Author: José Eduardo Agualusa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 256 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The Society of Reluctant Dreamers - US
The Society of Reluctant Dreamers - UK
The Society of Reluctant Dreamers - Canada
La société des rêveurs involontaires - France
Die Gesellschaft der unfreiwilligen Träumer - Deutschland
La sociedad de los soñadores involuntarios - España
  • Portuguese title: A Sociedade dos Sonhadores Involuntários
  • Translated by Daniel Hahn

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing, if a bit cheerily simplistic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Observador . 11/6/2017 C.M.Bobone
El País . 19/8/2019 Juan de Marsilio
Público . 21/6/2017 António Rodrigues

  From the Reviews:
  • "A escrita passa e até faz passar o tempo, as personagens são vulgares mas não são estereotipadas e o enredo não tem rasgo mas também não tem buracos. Podia ser um livro sólido, coisa já de si assinalável quando a falta de engenharia romanesca alui tanta argamassa literária ao primeiro embate da leitura. Sem grandes voos, podia manter-se na linha equatorial do razoável, caso não baixasse até à política angolana." - Carlos Maria Bobone, Observador

  • "La novela plantea que cuestiones como la libertad, la paz, la esperanza, el perdón y la justicia son sueños, que nunca se alcanzan del todo, pero a los que los hombres debemos aferrarnos si queremos que vivir siga valiendo la pena. Un sólo defecto debe señalarse en esta obra: novelista maduro, consciente de su talento, el autor abusa a veces de su oficio y algunos de sus juicios humorísticos sobre las flaquezas humanas bordean lo sentencioso y se acercan al golpe bajo. Deberían haberse omitido, con ganancia para el texto y sus lectores." - Juan de Marsilio, El País

  • "(P)ara um escritor que define a criação literária como a capacidade de se colocar na pele do outro, A Sociedade dos Sonhadores Involuntários acaba por não se colocar na pele dos revus, a quem o livro está dedicado. (...) O décimo quarto romance do escritor angolano, nascido no Huambo em 1960, é um livro engajado, para usar uma palavra muito cara em Angola, sem perder a ambição de ser poético e a vontade de saber mais sobre o mundo dos sonhos." - António Rodrigues, Público

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Set in contemporary Angola, most of The Society of Reluctant Dreamers is narrated by Daniel Benchmol, a journalist puttering along in his job, his specialty now interviewing writers and artists ("almost all of them foreigners, or living abroad"). He married into an influential family, his father-in-law, Homero Diaz da Cruz having: "gotten rich mysteriously in the latter years of the one-party system and centralized economy", but when Daniel wouldn't quit writing his regime-critical pieces his wife sided with her family and they separated many years earlier. Daniel has been on his own for ages when the novel opens, but only now is getting officially divorced, his wife wanting to get re-married after all these years; the finality of it does seem to hit him hard. He retreats to the beachside Rainbow Hotel in Cabo Ledo, south of Luanda, where the owner, Hossi, takes an interest in him; as it turns out, Daniel and Hossi (and Hossi's twin brother, Jamba) went to school together, decades earlier.
       Dreaming figures prominently in the novel. Hossi reveals that: "People used to dream about me when I was nearby", while Daniel reports having vivid dreams in which he interviews real people -- "I've interviewed Jonas Savimbi four times: twice awake and twice in my dreams. Muammar Gaddafi I've only interviewed in dreams". A camera that Daniel fishes out of the ocean leads him to a woman who appears in his dreams, 'the Cotton-Candy-Hair-Woman' whom he tracks down to South Africa and gets in touch with; she is a Mozambican artist named Moira Fernandes. When he visits her they also encounter a neuroscientist, Hélio, who works with dreams -- specifically on building a machine that is: "an instrument capable not of photographing but of filming dreams", which then also comes into play in the story.
       For all the apparent dream-focus, that's really only one facet of the novel. Some of the characters also carry personal burdens, including difficult memories -- or the lack thereof, as one-time UNITA Secret Services man Hossi has forgotten (or repressed) parts of his past, while Daniel is also haunted by parts of his. (Regrettably, there's practically nothing from Daniel's interview-dreams .....) Hossi also is burdened by personal losses -- of the woman he loved, many years ago, as well as his presumed long dead brother. And the novel is also -- or even primarily -- political, with Angola in a time of transition when Agualusa (the exact same age as his protagonist ...) wrote the novel, with longtime (really longtime) Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos having announced in March of 2016 that he was going to step down in 2018; the novel is set in 2016, and was written in 2017.
       Daniel's father-in-law saw to it that Daniel could not work as a journalist, back in the day; for a long time Daniel only: "wrote stage plays and did technical translations", and while he returned to journalism, now working for an online newspaper, he seems to have kept away from politics. As a friend of his points out, Daniel has now long lived in a sort of apolitical bubble, removed from the day-to-day concerns of the population -- oblivious, even:

(Y)ou, and a lot of people like you, may be here in Luanda, but you don't live here, with us. You don't suffer with us.
You stay shut up in your house reading your books. You go out less and less. In the old days, you used to immerse yourself in the real Angola, from time to time, at least to interview some poor wretch or other. You don't even do that now.
       The political becomes inescapable when Daniel's college-age daughter, Lúcia -- but called by her nickname, Karinguiri -- participates in a political action with a few of her friends, the charges quickly trumped up to an: "Attempt on the life of the President, and attempted coup d'état". While his former wife's family has lots of influence, Karinguiri's idealism complicates their efforts to sweep this under the rug and get her released -- but idealism, and dreams, win the day.
       Agualusa shifts easily from dream to waking states in this busy novel that see several of its characters move about extensively too -- aside from trips to the nearby hotel and a hop to South Africa, Daniel also takes a detour to Brazil at one point, following up on an old story. A significant chunk of the novel also consists of Hossi's journal entries, both past and present, as he and his history play a pivotal role in the novel. A danger with so much dream-focus is of course how easy it is to get carried away by fanciful invention, but Agualusa handles this quite well -- not least in offering a reality that is as varied and filled with unusual events as many a dream is. Daniel admits that: "In the interviews I've done in my dreams, the interviewees have often proved more authentic, and especially more lucid, than when I've been alert", and this keeping-the-dreams-real -- mostly -- works to good effect -- so also especially with the contrasting scene near the end which features an encounter that culminates in a beautiful surreal diminution of the President.
       Most of The Society of Reluctant Dreamers is a bit all over the place, with quite a few overlapping stories -- romance, dream-research, and political activism among them -- as well as blasts from the past, including parts of Daniel's childhood and Hossi's dark history, some of which catches up with him in the present. While perhaps not as obvious to foreign readers who haven't followed recent Angolan politics closely, the novel surely must also be seen in tandem with the events surrounding the time of its writing, a pre-transition to the post-dos Santos era (though Agualusa chooses a different path to that change than the one that was happening at the time).
       Despite some brief flashes of dark ugliness -- including from Daniel's childhood -- and the occasional sense of menace -- specifically with some of the events around Hossi --, The Society of Reluctant Dreamers is a remarkably gentle story. Even Karinguiri's incarceration, and the hunger strike she and her comrades go on, come across as almost innocuous. But this fundamentally cheerful outlook to the novel as a whole works quite well for it, and makes for a satisfying -- if a bit (too-)easy -- conclusion.
       It's a winning novel, a fundamental ebullience simmering under the story and then coming out full force, and if some of the story's many threads seem a bit loose, it does all hold together sufficiently. An enjoyable read, and interesting glimpse of contemporary Angola -- if almost too insistent in its happy, happy end.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 March 2020

- Return to top of the page -


The Society of Reluctant Dreamers: Reviews: José Eduardo Agualusa: Other books by José Eduardo Agualusa under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa was born in 1960.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2020 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links