José Eduardo Agualusa and his translator Daniel Hahn are shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for A General Theory of Oblivion. José was born in Huambo, Angola in 1960. His other works include The Book of Chameleons, the winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for 2007, and Creole, which won the Portuguese Grand Prize for Literature.
Photograph © Marcelo Buainain
Words Without Borders: Tell us about how you became a writer. Was it a vocation, an accident? How has your relationship to writing changed over time? Have your goals and objectives changed throughout the years?
José Eduardo Agualusa: I grew up among books. I grew up among great storytellers and in a rough area in turmoil, full of extraordinary tales. Writing was a way to understand the world around me and to assert my place in it. It began, suspiciously, as a sort of affirmation of my identity. Throughout the years I may have grown as a writer, but I continue to pursue writing as a passion and for the simple pleasure of discovery. I write because I want to know what's going to happen to my characters. Portuguese is the primary tool of my trade—not only the variety used in Angola, but the various forms used throughout the world. Perhaps the principal difference between my work when I began to write and my work now is that I know more closely the language in which I write.