Loved It Because: Mia Couto has crafted a surreal, engrossing tragic tale of the hopelessness of life during the fifteen year long civil war that consumed post-independence Mozambique. I went into this novel knowing little about Mozambique's history apart from a broad knowledge regarding the brutality with which Portugal ceded independence to its colonies.
Reading this novel won't give the reader even a brief overview of the country's civil war, instead Couto focuses on pulling the reader into the pysche of those affected most by war--the ones not doing the killing--the women and the children. Early on, Kindzu the narrator relates one of the most bizaree stories that I've ever read--his younger brother is forced to live in the family's henhouse bu their insane father, and then forced to act like a chicken--for so long that he eventually becomes one and disappears. This type of magical kafkaesque storyline is repeated throughout Sleepwalking Land, as the oprhaned narrators (yes, plural) struggle to exist in a country that is dying under their feet. The very idea of life turns Kindzu into a fatalist as he remarks at one point: "the best things in life are those that don't lie ahead"--meaning that pleasure and meaning can only be found in distant memories or in the most immediate present.
Read This For More:
2103 Paris Review Interview with Mia Couto
2015 Guardian Interview with Author
Sleepwalking Land (2007 Movie is free with amazon prime)
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
15 Kindzu is the worst as pronounced by his mother
16 Mozambique likened to a beached dying whale
17 An Indian doesn't have black friends
20 Sincerity is a childlike virtue
22 Wish to be men of no race--men of an ocean instead
33 The elephant as a symbol of the dying land
35-43 Recounts surreal ocean journey and a dream-like conversation with his dead father
40 Desire and journey to become a naparama (witch doctor of sorts)
41 Mozambique's plight is blamed on the country forgetting its ancestors
53 Mozambique's fate is that of a mat: "History will wipe its feet on our back"
60-7 Surreal Skellington episode on repopulating Mozambique
62 'dreams are letters we send to our other, remaining lives'
75 in the end we all yearn for connection
105 The cause of the war: to license robbery...'death was necessary so that laws could be forgotten'
108 narrator's role from the beginning: a dreamer of memories, an inventor of truths...a sleepwalker like the land where I was born
157 "the best things in life are those that don't lie ahead"
158 the solitude and loneliness of war: "that's what the war had done: now, all of us are alone, the dead and the living. There's no nation anymore."
176 cunning = hyena = death
192 "those who suffer most in war are those not involved in the killing" it's the women and children