It's been some time since Disaster Amnesiac has enthused about a novel, but after finishing Jonathan Weisman's wonderful No. 4 Imperial Lane, I just have to do so.
The book follows two time streams, one set in in Brighton, England in 1988, the other in (mostly) Angola in the early 1970's. Linking the two is the story of Elizabeth Bromwell, who in the former setting is the primary care taker for her quadriplegic brother Hans and in the latter a young, inexperienced wife of a conscripted Portuguese army medic. Dramatic action is achieved through her recounting of those early years to David, an American college student that has taken on the job of assistant care taker for Hans. While David's voice is the primary narrative voice, the story ultimately belongs to Elizabeth as she describes those times while knocking back vodka in the kitchen of her Brighton flat and its steadily decreasing possessions.
Weisman's crisp, subtly witty writing moves this story along compellingly; seriously, I could not wait to get back to its pages when not reading it.
Also compelling is the history lesson imparted through the novel. Disaster Amnesiac knew absolutely nothing about Portugal's imperial machinations and the ruin that they brought to Angola, especially at their empire's terminal stage, but after reading Imperial Lane, I will likely seek out more reading on the subject. It was striking for me to realize that at that same time as my country's ignominious exit out of Southeast Asia was happening, a much older misadventure, equally traumatic to all parties, was also crumbling into the World Historical dust in Southwest Africa.
Weisman shows much creativity with use of many Shakespeare quotes, delivered by Elizabeth and her husband Joao, both of them being scholars of the Bard. These quotes accentuate certain parts of the story really nicely, coloring moments both tragic and triumphant with extra flair.
Tragedy certainly does color the story, as airs of impossibility and human recalcitrance towards emotional obligations arise from the characters, but Weisman ultimately gives the reader a tender shoot of hope amid the thickets of hopelessness that are evinced at macro and micro human levels.
No. 4 Imperial Lane is the kind of novel that one could end up harassing friends to read. Disaster Amnesiac will try not to do so, but, if you do read it, please feel free to share your impressions of it with me. I'd love to discuss its voluminous merits!