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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent


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To purchase Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent

Title: Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent
Author: Pepetela
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 384 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent - US
Jaime Bunda, Agente Secreto - US
Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent - UK
Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent - Canada
Jaime Bunda, agent secret - France
Jaime Bunda, Geheimagent - Deutschland
  • Portuguese title: Jaime Bunda, Agente Secreto
  • Translated by Richard Bartlett

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing, if not quite sharp and tight enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 28/5/2005 hu
TLS . 23/9/2005 Stephen Henighan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Pepetela is an ambitious writer, but he is rarely subtle. He has a compelling narrative gift and a deep emotional investment in his characters. He writes in efficient standard Portuguese, seasoned with a very mild sprinkling of African words. His weakness is narrators who spell out for the reader insights amply demonstrated by the action. The sardonic tone of the Jaime Bunda novels parlays this editorializing tendency into a conduit for acerbic commentary on contemporary corruption." - Stephen Henighan, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title of the novel is: 'Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent', but this character is no James Bond. Indeed, when Jaime Bunda is introduced it is his unusually large arse that the narrator sees fit to focus on. No wonder: his most prominent feature is a defining one. It is with his rear comfortably on a chair that Jaime Bunda spends most of his time. A cousin who runs the SIG -- a central investigating service with police powers -- got him a job there, but it's basically an apprenticeship without any responsibilities or duties. And certainly no gun.
       Jaime is patient -- he's been sitting on the chair for almost two years -- but he dreams of greater things. An aficionado of American crime novels (with far less respect for the European variety), he sees himself as hardboiled and thinks he knows all the tricks. He's just waiting for his opportunity -- and the book begins when it finally comes: a fourteen year old girl has been raped and murdered, and his boss, Chiquinho Vieira, thinks Jaime is just the man for the job. Which raises a lot of eyebrows.
       Jaime is not one to wonder why he -- who has never been involved in any criminal investigating -- should be entrusted with this potentially sensitive case. He throws himself enthusiastically into the case, bewildering the police who conducted the preliminary investigations. Jaime immediately has some nice wild theories (the stories he's read having taught him that the obvious is much too easy a solution ...) and makes quite a mess of things. But he is an authority figure of sorts, and the fact that SIG is involved worries the police, and so he's allowed to rampage -- for the most part.
       Jaime is also quickly sidetracked, and his focus shifts to a person he considers the prime suspect (on the basis of little more than gut feeling -- though given Jaime's ample gut and its constant growling, there might be something to that). Unfortunately, the suspect is also well-connected, and Jaime is quickly brought to heel. But then he goes to his influential cousin, who has his own bones to pick with those whose toes Jaime is stepping on, and he lets Jaime get on with it. Amazingly, Jaime stumbles into something big, and winds up not looking like the complete bumbler he is. (Incidentally, the original murder also gets cleared up along the way -- with only small thanks to Jaime.)
       Complicating matters throughout is Jaime's love-life: he's madly in love with Florinda -- who is unfortunately married. Jaime wants to throw what he thinks is his considerable weight around and scare off the husband, but once again he has misunderstood the situation, underestimating the significance of the husband (and oblivious to why someone like Florinda would get involved with a loser like Jaime in the first place ...). His strong-arm methods make him feel like he's on top of things for a while, but, of course, it all comes crashing down on him (ultimately with quite a vengeance, in best eye-for-an-eye tradition).
       Jaime Bunda, Agente Secreto is a police procedural -- with Jaime's procedures straight out of American pulp fiction, completely out of tune with the times and the situation. His good-natured incompetence and delusions are amusing enough, but it's a long book and even that loses its charm after a while (and the payoff of the successes he has, some practically falling in his lap, also fall a bit flat because the element of dumb (very dumb) luck plays such a large role). But the book does allow Pepetela to criss-cross contemporary Angolan life and society: the clash of tradition and modernity, the lure of wealth (diamonds, oil) and whom it attracts (foreign elements -- from Algeria and Lebanon -- play significant roles), the workings of bureaucracies and the police. And Pepetela doesn't try too hard: it's just background colour, and all the more effective for that. Despite the obvious satirical aspects, it's a more convincing local novel than most.
       Adding to the mix, Pepetela also plays with his narrators: there's an editorial voice that breaks in now and again, and when the whim moves it, the narrator is switched. It's not done too often, so it doesn't get too irritating, and it helps keep the reader on his or her toes -- perhaps a bit too playful, but, like much else in the book, easily accepted as harmless fun.
       Jaime Bunda, Agente Secreto isn't a great mystery book, but it is fun, and it offers a good picture of contemporary Angola. And Jaime Bunda is a winning figure, a different sort of African hero: Pepetela has already written another instalment featuring him, and one hopes more will follow.
       The book could have used considerably tighter pacing (and far fewer scenes of characters in cars -- following each other, or just sitting in them), but it's still worthwhile.

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Jaime Bunda, Agente Secreto: Reviews: Pepetela: Other books by Pepetela under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Pepetela (actually: Artur Carlos Maurício Pestana dos Santos) was born in Benguela in 1941. He is one of Angola's leading writers.

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