M.A. Othofer discusses the many virtues of Ondjaki's child narrator and his wonder-laced universe in The Complete Review, highlighting how he unveils the extraordinary in the quotidian, and how the obliviousness of a child can lead to unique insights about political unrest. "This is, ultimately, a profound novel," writes Othofer, "perhaps a definitive one of collapsing Soviet power and influence in 1980s Africa."
We like to think of Ondjaki as mixing the picaresque tradition of Twain with the eccentric linguistic inventiveness of a Mia Couto or a Clarice Lispector. His novels are peculiar, resting in the very foreign gap between Young Adult and avant-garde fiction, and although he is occasionally characterized as having a kinship with magical realism, Ondjaki had some very interesting things to say on the matter of surrealism and conscious invention with CBC's Paul Kennedy:
Fiction doesn't happen to me, fiction happens in Angola and I happen to be there, and I happen to be born there. Among us, if you find another writer from Angola, you will not hear this comment, "oh that book of yours, what a powerful imagination," no; the question is, where did you see that?!
So one might say that Ondjaki considers himself a reporter from a forgotten realm, a reporter with the eye and soul of a child. And for those of you wondering at the difficulty of his task, the name Ondjaki means "he who faces challenges." In Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret, Ondjaki rises to the occasion, shining a light on a utopic space within a world of disrepair.
"Is that what tales from before were like a long time ago?"
"So before is a time, Granma?"
"Before is a place."
"A place really far away?"
"A place really deep inside."