Magazine article World Literature Today

Woman of the Ashes

Magazine article World Literature Today

Woman of the Ashes

Article excerpt

Mia Couto Woman of the Ashes Trans. David Brookshaw. New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2018. 272 pages.

The first entry in a planned trilogy, Mia Couto's Woman of the Ashes is a beautiful and grotesque force interweaving history with myth. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Gaza province of Mozambique is drowned by a torrent of war. Imani, a fifteen-year-old girl, struggles with her cultural identity as she is torn between her VaChopi roots and the occupying Portuguese. Her life grows further fractured as her family is broken amid the conflict. Germano, a sergeant wrestling with guilt and grandeur, recalls his attempts to subdue one of the last African kingdoms while losing himself to an infectious madness.

Couto's prose carries the weight of a creation story in nearly every passage. Bounding between the perspective of Imani and the correspondence of Germano, the former does seem to outweigh the latter in terms of intrigue, but both adequately build toward a narrative whole. Germano's segments are compelling, illustrating the cascade from prestige to desperation to feverish visions. Imani's sections, however, interweave spirituality with the plight of her family, injecting a cosmic relevance into a personal tale.

The characterization of Imani's family is consistently the text's most arresting aspect. For instance, the abrupt departure of the girl's grandfather, Tsangatelo, to a distant mine spurs a legend that further animates the beliefs of her kin. …

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