I just got through with General Theory of Oblivion, one of the latest novels from Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa. I had never read anything by him before, never even heard of him, though now I've learned that he is a big deal in the Portuguese-speaking world and perhaps increasingly with Anglophone audiences. Anyway, this book blew me away. It is a sweeping (though at once cozy and even claustrophobic) account of various people's lives during the Angolan civil war, lives that diverge and converge time and again, often unbeknownst to the protagonists. The characters are realistic but also fantastic and fascinating, but what most impressed me was how the author takes such a messy affair as the Angolan war, which most of us probably only know as one of a number of indecipherable tribal/political/postcolonial clusterfucks or basketcases of Cold-War-era Africa, and turns it not into yet another faceless account of mass tragedy from the Dark Continent, but rather a human-scale affair. I guess he does this by zooming in on the many unique stories of the individuals he follows, and in so doing shows us that even in an extraordinary circumstance like Africa's longest-running war, each person goes on being who they are, sometimes doing ill, sometimes acting nobly, and most of the time just muddling their way through life, both the trivial daily challenges and triumphs and the extremes presented occasional (though not continuously) by the war.
So go check it out!