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The Mozambican dream of Mia Couto


Mia Couto speaks as he writes. With each question, the author, born in 1955, in Mozambique, asks: “Can I tell you a story? » It would be crazy to refuse, as his art of storytelling is the strength of the novels, chronicles and poems of this former journalist, also a biologist and professor of ecology at the University of Maputo. Take the incipit of The Silence Tuner (Métailié, 2011): “The first time I saw a woman I was 11 years old and I suddenly found myself so helpless that I burst into tears. I lived in a desert inhabited only by five men. My father had given a name to this lost corner: Jesusalem. »

The evocative power of her writing, the abundance of stories and the plurality of literary forms in Mia Couto do not prevent each of her books from being inhabited by a place – Mozambique – and by haunting themes, since her first novel, sleepwalking earth (Albin Michel, 1994): memory and oblivion; the ghosts, silences and wars that mark the history of this southern African country. Her new novel, The Mapper of Absencesoffers a gateway of choice into the work of the writer who was awarded the prestigious Camoes Prize in Portugal in 2015, and held to be nobelisable.


Mia Couto’s life, like her work, is inseparable from Mozambique and its history. The writer was 9 years old when the armed conflict began in 1964 between the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo, communist) and Portugal, which began to colonize the country at the end of the 15th century.e century, until independence was proclaimed in 1975. It constitutes the framework of the Absence Mapper. About this text, undoubtedly her most intimate, Mia Couto confides to the “World of Books”: “I live in a particular situation, because I saw the birth of my country, I am older than him. My country “wrote” to me in a way, and I myself accompanied it in its struggle” – notably as a journalist for Frelimo.

Two years after independence, in 1977, a civil war began between the ruling Frelimo and the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) guerrillas, anti-Marxist in orientation and supported by South Africa and the United States. It lasts fifteen years and claims a million victims. “In Mozambique, we didn’t say ‘war’ or ‘civil’, he remarks. It was called “armed aggression”, as if this war took root outside of Mozambique. We have always wanted to escape the word “war”. But, for me, wars begin when it seems obvious that the other, by the name that is removed from him, ceases to exist. My job as a writer is to restore the humanity of this other. »

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