'In olden times, which is when God was deciding what blessings he would give to the countries he was creating, after a long while he finally got to Angola and he asked Gabriel his angel to remind him where Angola was, because he'd forgotten. "Angola?" said Gabriel. "Angola's down there some place, nobody's been there yet." And so ...' This was Petrov telling a story as we sat around a bivouac fire in May 1970, somewhere in the flat lands east of Muié (which is south of Luso, which is 'some place down there'), so as to explain the wrongful reputation given to his people, the Angolans, by their neighbours in Southern Africa. Although his own language is Kimbundu, he was speaking Portuguese for my benefit, but an Angolan Portuguese that the others would mostly understand. Petrov is neither Bulgarian nor any kind of Slav but a thoroughly African Angolan from Ambriz on the Atlantic seaboard, a man of many modern virtues and various experience. The luck of the draw in the late Fifties, the days of 'scholarships to Europe', had steered him to Slav lands, 'where they called me Petrov because they couldn't get hold of my name, that's how it was.'
LRB 9 September 1993 | PDF Download