José Eduardo Agualusa‘s A General Theory Of Oblivion is a fast read, but has quite a few layers to it. The protagonist, Ludo, is a Portuguese woman who, the night before Angola’s independence, cut herself out of the surrounding world, and ended up staying in her apartment for 28 years. The book shows us glimpses of Angola’s turbulent history during the civil war, through the eyes and ears of Ludo (Ludo is visually impaired), as well as through the eyes of a few other characters, whose lives are tangled with Ludo’s existence.
Ludo’s somewhat peaceful living gets disturbed by a boy, Sabalu, who climbs into her apartment. He is another lost soul without a family, and together they form a new family, and continues their lives as grandmother and grandson. The greatest personal tragedy in her life is also revealed, and gives some clarification to why she is troubled. Many bad and sad things are revealed throughout the book. Ludo did have a family but she lost them all to different circumstances. Disappearing family members is not uncommon in some countries, but it must be an experience that will haunt you until the end. You know what happened, but not really.
Ludo’s story is quite unique in many ways, yet so common. She did not have many people in her life, and she never yearned for more, but she didn’t want to be alone either. Ludo experienced many tragedies in her life, and shunned the world. Living in the capital of a country during war times, and a persistent little boy, she however never really got away. Still, 28 years in solitude must be quite an experience.
Agualusa states this story is fiction, but it is however based on a true story. There actually was a woman called Ludo who bricked herself into her apartment for almost 30 years. She kept diaries, notebooks, and wrote on the walls. How much of this story Agualusa tells us is fiction, and how much of it is true, well, in fact I think we can ask ourselves the same question when it comes to many other books as well.
Trying to forget about our past, covering up for what happened and went wrong, as well as escaping the reality are common subjects, no matter where in the world we are, and no matter whom we are talking about. These subjects are sometimes easier to relate to than one would think. Most of us don’t have the luxury of creating our own alternative universe as isolated as Ludo did, but I believe everyone has created at least some sort of a safe space to escape the surrounding world, at least from time to time.