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The Viceroy of Ouidah Paperback – June 7, 1988
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Top Customer Reviews
Chatwin's "The Viceroy of Ouidah" (his fist novel, written after visiting West Africa) is a very well written book. I found it a pleasure to read, hard to put down (it is one of the few books I have read in a single sitting). It is a short book: nothing in Chatwin's text is extraneous; every sentence advances his story, which is an intriguing blend of fact and fiction, past and present.
Werner Herzog made a film titled "Cobra Verde" (1988, starring Klaus Kinski) which is based on "The Viceroy of Ouidah". In his "Wonders of the African World" book and television program Henry Louis Gates, Jr. travels to modern-day Ouidah and encounters the descendents of De Souza, who still live on his estate.
That same society was described by another great writer almost a century earlier. Sir Richard Francis Burton's A MISSION TO GELELE, KING OF DAHOMEY captures the scene perfectly some 50 years or so after da Silva's passing, including the all-female army regiments of the King and the weird dysfunctionality of his court. Chatwin seems to have taken a few leaves from Burton's book and woven a fascinating study of the rise and fall of a very limited man.
We never really see into da Silva's mind: In the first part of the book, he is merely a revered forefather; in the second, an adventurer whose decline is as precipitate as Citizen Kane's. The King's Amazon warriors howl at his passing: "It was not the leopard that killed him. Not the buffalo that killed him. It was night. Night that killed him." That -- and everything else.
At no time does da Silva understand the irony of his being a slave broker whom the slaving ship captains could trust. We do not follow the slavers to the New World, just see them off at the docks as they begin their grim voyage. The Dahomean kings use da Silva, but profoundly distrust him.Read more ›
This novel was not all that well received when it first came out. His next work 'On the Black Hill' reveived the 1982 Whitbread Literary Award for Best First Novel, overlooking the fact that Chatwin had alreay published Viceroy previously and I think this is telling. I found the novel lacking in the gripping substance, intangible though that may be that really makes a great novel. Like one of the many works of art Chatwin catalogued when he was working at Sotheby's, it is a glistening gem, but beneath the surface, there is little that stirs the soul and lodges in the memory as passages of great fiction do.
Still worth reading though, as Chatwin at his worst is better than many writers at their best.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
For anyone interested in either West Africa or the origins of the slave trade, this book presents an interesting take on the intricacies that evolved between the Europeans and the... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
I was on my way to Benin for two years with the Peace Corps, so this book had special relevance.Published 17 months ago by Julie C. Wang
Bruce Chatwin's The Viceroy Of Ouidah masquerades as a small book. In 50,000 words or so, the author presents a fictionalised life that has been embroidered from truth. Read morePublished on May 24, 2010 by Philip Spires
In just 101 pages, Bruce Chatwin (BC) evokes the life and times of Francisco Manoel da Silva (FMdS), a Brazilian slave trader in the African kingdom of Dahomey from 1812 until his... Read morePublished on March 2, 2010 by Alfred J. Kwak
I came to Chatwin's The Viceroy of Ouidah by way of Werner Herzog's (very loose) film adaptation of it, "Cobra Verde." Herzog's film doesn't quite work. Read morePublished on July 11, 2008 by Kerry Walters
very hard to get into; it reads like a college literature assignment that you are supposed to decipher (not fun); not recommendedPublished on December 6, 2007 by M. lentz
In this text, "THE VICEROY OF OUIDAH," author Bruce Chatwin takes the reader on an engaging journey into the life of Francisco Manoel da Silva, a man who: Became the "best friend"... Read morePublished on September 3, 2004 by Guerrilla Reader