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  • Colonial Resistance and Contemporary Angolan Narrative:A Vida Verdadeira De Domingos Xavier and Vidas Novas
  • Phyllis Reisman Butler (bio)

The Angolan Writer José Luandino Vieira was born in Portugal in 1935 and brought to Luanda as a small child by his parents, settlers in the then Portuguese colony of Angola. Luandino Vieira is the author of ten books of prose fiction, and his works have been translated into several languages.1 One of the better known Angolan writers in terms of international critical reception, Luandino's literary practice is characterized by the development of the estória, a new narrative form that incorporates various aspects of traditional Angolan (Kimbundu) oral storytelling practices in a written text.2 Luandino's literary career began in the 1950s with his involvement with the literary-cultural journal Cultura and the publication of short narrative works in the Jornal de Angola. Most of the author's narratives were written from 1961 to 1972, during which time he was imprisoned-first in Luanda, and then in the Tarrafal prison camp [End Page 47] in the Cape Verdean archipelago-for political activities against the Portuguese Estado Novo (New State).

This present study focuses on two of Luandino's earlier works, a novel, A Vida Verdadeira de Domingos Xavier and a collection of short stories, Vidas Novas (New Lives).3 Although these works predate Luandino's experimentation with new literary forms and languages, both the novel and the stories show various prefigurations of the author's later literary practices, particularly in terms of utilizing popular speech patterns disparaged during the colonial era. The later development of the estória works toward the creation of a specifically Angolan narrative that maintains the open form of the traditional tale and changes according to the focus of each different storyteller. In this way the estória represents a type of collective narrative. Similarly, Luandino's use of popular discourse, as well as the creation of neologisms, valorize the creative literary capacities of marginalized speech patterns. Undoubtedly, both practices reinforce collective aspects of a new Angolan narrative discourse. The earlier works, including A Vida Verdadeira de Domingos Xavier and Vidas Novas, also share certain aspects of collectivity that are paradigmatic of Angolan literary practice in general ofthat period, the late 1950s and early 1960s. During that time, Angolan literary works (for the most part poetic discourse) moved from an initial negation of colonial identity and the revindication of Angolan (African) cultural values toward a more combative position vis-a-vis nationalism and the actual armed liberation struggle in Angola. Both of these narratives by Luandino Vieira are representative of that combative stance as works that affirm collective Angolan resistance and identity in the face of an indefinite period of armed struggle.

Luandino Vieira wrote A Vida Verdadeira de Domingos Xavier during a trip to Portugal in the latter part of 1961. He completed the manuscript only a few days prior to his arrest in Lisbon and subsequent deportation to the Angolan capital of Luanda. Although an official edition of the novel was not published until 1974, some copies of the original manuscript circulated prior to this publication.4 The novel's title provokes an expectation of the literary biography of one character, but in actuality A Vida Verdaderia de Domingos Xavier contains a composite of several narratives and their discursive temporalities unified through a specific event, the imprisonment of Domingos Xavier. This incorporation of various stories [End Page 48] and temporalities serves a dual function. Their combination provides a totalizing perspective of the unifying narrative event and also delineates the different levels of collective Angolan resistance against Portuguese colonial domination. This composite vision of collective struggle forms the essential focus of A Vida Verdadeira de Domingos Xavier and functions as the novel's real protagonist.

In an interview concerning his literary development, Luandino Vieira stated that the novel's popularity could be explained in part by the relative accessibility of its narrative: "A 'vida verdadeira' é um livro que está construído segundo uma estructura tradicional, dividido em capítulos, onde a acção se desenvolve linearmente" ("Acho que" 8). Actually, the ordering of the novel's ten chapters corresponds to that of...


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