I'm fascinated by Ludo's story and by the artifacts of her seclusion. How did her circumstances come to be known? That is, you mention connecting with Sabalu for her notebooks and seeing the photographs of her walls by the visual artist Sacramento Neco. She and her unique response to life did not pass without some notice. How did her life come to light? And what drew you to her story?
The novel's introductory note is, to tell the truth, a part of the fiction. It's a game, first of all, but it's also a narrative strategy of adding credibility. Everything in the book is fiction. Pure fiction. In Portuguese-speaking countries this note didn't cause, as it were, any sense of strangeness in its readers, and to judge by the reviews it would appear that everyone took it to be just what it was -- part of the fiction. Curiously, in France this was not the case. Many critics mentioned the fact of the novel having been based on a true story. Perhaps one might construe something from this about the nature of the Portuguese-speaking people -- though I'm not sure what exactly. Perhaps simply that we aren't so interested in the border between what is reality and what is fiction.
To what extent do you think the storyteller's role is to fulfill unrealized desire in the reader? Or in the storyteller himself?
In Angola, whether in the countryside or in the cities, reality is frequently crossed by fiction, even by the fantastical or the absurd, and nobody finds this particularly curious. I think many people only notice the borders between reality and imagination, or only notice that something might be seen by other people as strange or absurd, when they abandon the reality of Angola for a time, when they are transferred to a reality that is more closely attached to the real -- if I might put it like that. As for myself, as a novelist, I enjoy working on that fluid boundary because it allows me to question human nature. I don't know whether it's my role, as a writer, to highlight it, to limit it, or simply to bear witness to it.
Love doesn't save everyone, it doesn't necessarily save a country, but it could be said that it saves Sabalu and Ludo, no? How important is love in politics, do you think? And can you talk a little bit about its role for you in your storytelling?
For me, this is a novel about guilt and redemption. People who seemed lost, who felt lost, who wanted to remain lost and forgotten -- people who are tormented by profound guilt -- who are given a second chance. Ludo goes to Luanda against her will. She's a bitter, prejudiced woman. Sabalu saves her from death. But more importantly, Sabalu saves her from prejudice. When she recognizes herself in other people, Ludo is saved.
The same happens with the Portuguese mercenary, in a rather more radical way: he's transformed into the "enemy," he falls in love with the people he was fighting. He changes from one world to another. So, yes, it's love -- for another person, for people, for a country -- that rescues most of the characters in this book. Politics, as I understand it, should only be possible if it is an act of love, that is, of disinterested surrender to the other, of devotion to an idea and a cause. I think it's a similar passion, somehow, that drives me and justifies me as a writer. I write to try to understand other people. I write to be other people.
Did you feel close to Ludo as you, too, were shut in while writing? The writer catching snippets of dialogue on the air, watching characters walk past his window.
Yes, it's true. There are a lot of similarities between the small miracle that is writing a novel, and Ludo's silent, albeit attentive, existence. In the first place, writers are witnesses. They observe. A writer works on an island surrounded by voices on all sides. Ludo wrote on the walls, and, as she didn't have much space and she also needed to save on charcoal, what she wrote was dry and pared down to the bone. This exercise of paring down is something that concerns me as a writer, too. I spend more time cutting than writing.