The post-colonial story of a family caught in the half-life of empires
By Ivo de Figueiredo
Translated by Deborah Dawkin
April 2019. Paperback.
336 pages with 32 black and white illustrations.
$22.95 | 9780999754474
From the acclaimed biographer of Norway’s most treasured cultural icons, Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch, comes the story of a migrant family in search of roots and for each other.
Ivo de Figueiredo’s lyrical and imagistic memoir navigates a difficult search for the origins of his estranged father, which opens a door to a family history spanning four continents, five centuries and the rise and fall of two empires. At the age of 45, Figueiredo traces his father’s family in the diaspora. Having emigrated from the Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India to British East Africa, and later to the West, his father’s ancestors were Indians with European ways and values—trusted servants of the imperial powers. But in post-colonial times they became homeless, redundant, caught between the age of empires and the age of nations.
With lush descriptions and forthcoming honesty, A Stranger at My Table tells the story of a family unwittingly tied to two European empires, who paid the price for their downfall, weathering revolution and many forms of prejudice. The author’s trove of often-strange photographs, letters and recordings as well as his eye for the smallest details and double-meanings lead the reader down a mysterious path as his search for his family’s heritage results in a surprising reunification with his father and reconciliation with his past.
Figueiredo uses techniques that are reminiscent of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. […] In passages he dazzles his reader with a mixture of recollections, colonial history, literary references, passing portraits and scenic descriptions. He also includes Norwegian history, social mobility and immigration through the striking contrast between the exotic son-in-law and the mother’s family of modest religious folk.
Engaging and extremely well-written […] A Stranger at My Table is a story that spans continents, multiple identities and different classes […] in the depiction of the fate of the Figueiredo family, where family became their true homeland as the empires and social systems to which they once belonged slipped through their fingers. Thus, through one man’s fate, the author succeeds in asking important questions about identity, origin and the price of migration.
– Sindre Hovdenakk, VG+
With A Stranger at my Table, Ivo de Figueiredo expands our understanding of what prose can be. […] It is touching and highly personal. […] He combines first-person narrative with personal inquiry and a scholarly account of history. This makes the book unique.
Like Daniel Mendelsohn in The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, the author follows the trail of his family across the globe, through travels, interviews and research while the understanding of his own background and history gradually grows.
In his search for identity and background, the author elegantly depicts the story of his family as an integrated part of colonial world history. […] The journey into his father’s life shows knowledge of different aspects of colonial rule, as well as the various nuances of racial division. This makes this story more than a family saga, with relevance to today’s political climate: “Man does not fear the unknown as many think, they fear what they think they know.”
Ivo de Figueiredo (b. 1966) is the critically-acclaimed biographer of Norway’s treasured cultural icon, Henrik Ibsen (forthcoming in English with Yale University Press, April 2019), and his next book is the official biography of Edvard Munch, commissioned by the Munch Foundation. In 2002, he was awarded the Brage Prize for a biography of Johan Bernhard Hjort, the co-founder of the Norwegian Fascist Party who later became a resistance fighter and human rights lawyer. A Stranger at My Table was influenced by such authors as W.G. Sebald, Edmund de Waal and Daniel Mendelsohn. The book received one of the highest non-fiction honors in Norway, the 2016 Language Prize and was nominated for the Brage Prize that same year. Figueiredo works as a critic at Morgenbladet and Aftenposten and is a member of the Norwegian Academy.
Photo: Jo Michael