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||Mia Couto (b. 1955)|
Mosambiquean novelist, short-story
writer, journalist, poet, and environmental activist, whose novel Terra sonâmbula
(1992, Sleepwalking Land), about the Mozambican Civil War, has been
hailed as one of the 12 best works
of 20th-century African novel. Mia Couto won in 2014 the Neustadt
International Prize for Literature, a honor that has often preceded the
Nobel Prize in Literature. His books have been translated into some
"War had killed the road thereabouts. Hyenas slunk along the tracks, snuffling among ashes and dust. The landscape had blended sadnesses the likes of which had never been seen before, in colours that clung to the inside of the mouth. They were dirty colours, so dirty that they had lost all their freshness, no longer daring to rise into the blue on the wing. Here the sky had become unimaginable. And creatures had got used to the ground, in resigned apprenticeship of death." (from Sleepwalking Land, 1992; translated by David Brookshaw)
António Emilio Leite Couto was born in Beira, the son of Fernando
and Maria de Jesus Couto. Couto's parents had come to Mosambique
from northern Portugal. His father had opposed the fascist dictator
Antônio Salazar and was forced to flee into exile. In his new home
country, he worked as a railroad
administrator, but then established himself as a poet and journalist.
While still quite young, Couto adopted the nickname
Mia, due to his love of cats. (One day he proclaimed that his name was
no longer Antonio but Mia.) Trying to get him to sleep, his parents
told him stories of their life in Portugal. "... more than anything, I
remember the passion they found in the invention of those stories," he
later recalled. "In that very familiar and domestic moment, the very
instance of literature was present."
His first poems Couto published in Notícias da Beira,
a local paper edited by his father. In 1971, Couto entered the Lourenço
Marques University (now
known as Eduardo Mondlane University), to study medicine. Like
many other students of the time, he got involved in the field of
politics. He abandoned his studies in 1974 to join the Liberation Front
Mosambique (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, or Frelimo), a Marxist
movement, that had waged a guerrilla war from 1964 against
the Portuguese. However, instead of being given an AK-47, Couto was
instructed to infiltrate the Portuguese-controlled media. In 1975,
Mosambique became an independent nation and
Frelimo declared a one-party communist state. During the subsequent
civil war an estimated 900,000 people died and more than five million
civilians werfe displaced.
Couto was appointed in 1977 the head of the Mosambique Information Agency. He then worked as general editor of the magazine Tempo and later edited the daily newspaper Noticias de Maputo and the weekly Domingo.
After returning to the Eduardo Mondlane University, Couto
received a degree in biology in 1989. This began his career as a
lecturer, researcher in ecology, and the head of the environmental
organization Impacto. He also writes for a Maputo theatre group,
Mutumbela Gogo. As a columnist, Couto has been a highly visible figure
in his country. He is noted for his mastery of the crónica,
a form which combines elements from the opinion column, the short
story, and the personal anecdote.
Couto's first book, Raiz de orvalho (1983), was a collection of poems. His collection of short stories, Vozes anoitecidas (1986, Voices Made Night), was awarded the Grande Prémio da Ficção Narrativa de Moçambique. O último vôo do flamingo(2000, The Last Flight of the Flamingo), set around a Mozambicisan town recovering from the civil war, won him the Mário António Prize from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal. The story moves on two levels, on the mystical level, the U.N. peacekeepers explode inexplicably, and on the concrete worldy level, they step on landmines. Couto has told that idea for the novel came after he found a single flamingo feather on a beach, and asked himself, "what if those birds never returned again?"
his fiction Couto has particularly dealt with issues related to
national identity, independence and nation-building. His innovative
style, rife with neologisms and grammatical acrobatics, has led to him
being compared with James Joyce and José Luandino Vieira. Drawing from
the oral tradition, his hallucinatory Mosanbiquen landscape is a world
populated by the living and the dead. A varanda do Frangipani (1996, Under the Frangipani) is narrated beyond the grave – a carpenter buried under a frangipani tree turns into a xipoco, a wandering spirit, and inhibits the body of a policeman. In Sleepwalking Land
the narrator inteprets the language of the dead. At the end the entire
country vanishes, or, as it could be interpreted, Mosambique becomes
integrated into global capitalism.
Although Couto's techniques
have been associated with magic realism, he has said in an interview
that "For an African writer it would be very difficult to think of
realism and magic as two pillars of the same concept, because the way
we feel and think results from the permanent crossing of those
frontiers." (The Paris Review, May 2, 2013) Couto
has been often regarded as the voice of the nation to the world
outside. At the same time he is a white writer, with a deeply rooted
cultural dualism – the colonial European and the national African. He writes in Portuguese, the official language of
Mozambique, but it is spoken by only half of the population as a first
or a second language.
Couto does not object to hunting, if it's controlled by rules.
"It suggests that we can read signs in the landscape, listen to
different types of silence, master languages and share codes." (from Pensativities:
Selected Essays, 2015) In Confession of the Lioness
(2012) women are the prey to a ghost-like lioness. The novel was
inspired by real events in northern Mosambique, where 25 women were
devoured by a group of lions in 2008. "I'm a hunter. I don't kill.
Isn't that the same thing, surely? For you, it may be. For me, it's
completely different." (from Confession of the Lioness) Couto lives in Maputo. His wife, Patricia, is a haematologist, and their daughter an actor.
Note: This page is under work!
(Some sources give Couto's day of birth as July 7; in Authors' Calendar: July 5)
For further reading: A Postmodern Nationalist: Truth, Orality, and Gender in the Work of Mia Couto by Phillip Rothwell (2004); Encyclopedia of African Literature, ed. by Simon Gikandi (2003); World Authors 2000-2005, ed. by Jennifer Curry, et al. (2007); 'Representations of African Childhood in Conflict and Post-Conflict Contexts: Johnny Mad Dog, Ezra, and Sleeping Land' by Christine Singer and Lindiwe Dovey, in Lost and Othered Children in Contemporary Cinema, ed. by Debbie Olson and Andrew Schall (2012); Transmesis: Inside Translation’s Black Box by Thomas O. Beebee (2012)