Mia Couto’s Confession of the Lioness, first published in Portuguese in 2012, has been released in English, translated by David Brookshaw.
Couto is the winner of the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and was also a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize this year – an award that honours a body of work and the author’s contribution to international fiction, as opposed to the Man Booker Prize’s focus on a single publication. The award ultimately went to Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai.
Couto made headlines earlier this year when he wrote a critical open letter to President Jacob Zuma which began, “We remember you in Maputo …”
Surrisingly, Zuma replied in kind, with a poetic piece beginning “My Dear Brother”, and continuing: “I remember you from our days in Mozambique”.
In a review for the Financial Times, University of Cape Town academic Hedley Twidle calls Couto’s letter to Zuma: “A fierce and fearless critique, but one voiced in customary and coded ways”, and suggests that this is also an apt description of his latest novel.
It reads as a passionate denunciation of patriarchy and violence against women in an east African village, a village that is being menaced by predators both feline and human. But again, it does this without reaching for familiar kinds of critique (the word “patriarchy” certainly never appears). Perhaps rather cunningly, it evades the vocabularies of feminism, environmentalism or human rights — the language of NGOs that some leaders are quick to dismiss as “western” imports when it suits them to do so.
Ellah Allfrey, editor of Africa39, deputy chair of the council of the Caine Prize and 2015 Man Booker Prize judge reviewed Confession of the Lioness for The Guardian, saying that while Couto “renders the politics of everyday living poetically”, his “focus on the status and treatment of women displays a stout refusal to look away from a harsh reality – fiction brings us closer to the truth here than mere facts ever could”.
Read an excerpt from Confession of the Lioness:
There’s only one way to escape from a place: It’s by abandoning ourselves. There’s only one way to abandon ourselves: It’s by loving someone.
—excerpt pilfered from the writer’s notebooks
It’s two in the morning and I can’t sleep. A few hours from now, they’ll announce the result of the contest. That’s when I’ll know whether I’ve been selected to go and hunt the lions in Kulumani. I never thought I’d rejoice so much at being chosen. I’m in dire need of sleep. That’s because I want to get away from myself. I want to sleep so as not to exist.
The sun’s nearly up and I’m still wrestling with the sheets. My only ailment is this: insomnia broken by brief snatches of sleep from which I wake with a start. When it comes down to it, I sleep like the animals I hunt for a living: the jumpy wakefulness of one who knows that too much inattention can be fatal.
To summon sleep, I resort to the ploy my mother used when it was our bedtime. I remember her favorite story, a legend from her native region. This is how she would tell it:
In the old days, there was nothing but night. And God shepherded the stars in the sky. When he gave them more food, they would grow fat and their bellies would burst with light. At that time, all the stars ate, and all glowed with the same joy. The days were not yet born, and that was why Time advanced on only one leg. And everything was so slow up there in the endless firmament! Until, among the shepherd’s flock, a star was born that aspired to be bigger than all the others. This star was called Sun, and it soon took over the celestial pastures, banishing the other stars afar, so that they began to fade. For the first time, there were stars that suffered and became so pale that they were swallowed up by the darkness. The Sun flaunted its grandeur more and more, lordly over its domains and proud of its name, so redolent of masculinity. And so he gave himself the title of lord of all the stars and planets, assuming all the arrogance of the center of the Universe. It wasn’t long before he declared that it was he who had created God. But in fact what had happened was that with the Sun now so vast and sovereign, Day had been born. Night only dared to approach when the Sun, tired at last, decided to go to bed. With the advent of Day, men forgot the endless time when all stars shone with the same degree of happiness. And they forgot the lesson of the Night, who had always been a queen without ever having to rule.
This was the story. Forty years on and this maternal comfort has no effect. It won’t be long before I know whether I’m going back to the bush, where men have forgotten all the lessons learned. It’ll be my last hunting expedition. And once again, the first voice I ever heard echoes in my mind: And everything was so slow up there in the endless firmament.
About the book
From 2015 Man Booker International finalist, Mia Couto
My sister Silência was the most recent victim of the lions, which have been tormenting our village for some weeks now…
When Mariamar Mpepe’s sister is killed by lions, her father imprisons her at home. With only the ghost of her sister for company, she dreams of escape, and of the hunter who abandoned her years before.
I’m the last of the hunters. And this is my last hunt.
Archangel Bullseye, born into a long line of marksmen, is summoned back to Kulumani. But as he tracks the lions in the surrounding wilderness, his suspicions grow – that the darkest threats lie not outside the village, but at its very heart.
What was happening was what always happened: The lions were coming back…
Set in a forgotten corner of East Africa haunted by superstition, tradition and the shades of civil war, this is a struggle that blurs the savagery of nature, and the savagery of man.
About the author
Mia Couto, born in Mozambique in 1955, is one of the most prominent writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa. His books, deeply rooted in the political upheavals, languages and narratives of his native land, have been published in more than 20 countries. He has won many awards, including the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and has been selected for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize shortlist. He lives in Maputo, and works as a biologist.
Author photo: Mia Couto on Facebook
Even though a number of themes are covered in the novel, the title, Losing My Religion is apt in that it addresses one of the major themes which is the result of Fẹmi’s relocation to the Western hemisphere – the loss of the Yoruba culture to his offspring either born or raised in the West. In another sense, related to racial injustice, the title is apt, for racial inequality and injustice is not part of Yoruba culture.
Remember all the way back in January when we promised you a new book by China Miéville to look forward to?
Well now, at long last, the wait is over. Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories is a collection of short stories (yes, we know, we also wanted another Bas-lag novel but what can you do?) by the author of King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council, Embassytown and The City and the City.
Ursula K Le Guin herself has given his stories a read, and writes in her review for The Guardian: “You can’t talk about Miéville without using the word ‘brilliant’.”
Le Guin is not someone who throws adjectives of praise around lightly. She’s the author of numerous fantasy novels, the most influential perhaps being the The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) which received a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. John Wray wrote in The Paris Review that “no single work did more to upend the genre’s conventions than The Left Hand of Darkness”.
So when Le Guin thinks your works is good, she means it. In the review, Le Guin comments on Miéville’s deft intellectualism, his strict adherence to Marxist principles of social equality, his ability to write a 500-page novel in five pages and his skill and mastery of the English language. In short, she calls it, “science fiction to the nth degree”.
Read Le Guin’s review of Three Moments of an Explosion:
Brilliance often lies in concision. As I read “The Rope Is the World”, I kept imagining the 500-page science-fiction novel that it could so easily have been: crammed full of detailed scientific and technological arcana, with a complex plot involving the machinations of the powerful and the fate of cosmic enterprises or empires, all routinely punctuated by descriptions of sexual activities. But Miéville didn’t take the easy route. He wrote it all in five pages.
The offhand density is superb:
Initial outlays were clearly gigavast, but lifting one ton of cargo out beyond everyday gravity to orbit by elevator was this or that many times cheaper – some absurd margin – than doing so by rocket, by shuttle, by alien indulgence. Now that the space elevators, the skyhooks, the geostationary tethered-dock haulage columns, were shockingly feasible, research projects were all human-spirit this and because-it’s-there that. As if, faced with them, the mere savings were as vulgar as they in fact were.
This is science fiction to the nth degree. To unpack all that would take hours.
If this dazzling review doesn’t make you hit the pre-order button ASAP, perhaps a description of the book will. Many of the 28 stories in Three Moments of an Explosion were first published in spurts on Miéville’s website, rejectamentalist manifesto, and are now contained in book form.
The book description on Goodreads reads as follows:
London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?
Salvage shared an excerpt from Three Moments of an Explosion, a short story entitled “The Dusty Hat”.
I have to talk to you about the man we saw, the man in the dusty hat. I know you remember.
Stop for a moment. I know you have a thousand questions, starting with Where have I been? What I want to start with is the man in the hat.
I was late to the conference. I’d had to stay in to watch a builder squint at the cracks in my outside wall and across my kitchen ceiling, cracks that had been there for a long time, ever since I moved in, but that started to spread about a year ago and were making me increasingly uneasy. And then the journey across the city was slow as a bastard so I arrived after the start and tried to creep quietly in to the lecture hall but everyone stared at me while I made my way to the seat you’d saved for me. I muttered something apologetic about subsidence. You mocked me sotto voce for being a bourgeois homeowner. I told you to hush and tried to pay attention.
But the man in the hat made us badly behaved. He was sitting in the audience right in front of us and when he got hold of the microphone and started speaking you leaned over to me and quietly pointed out quite how dusty his hat was. So I looked and that was me gone, I started giggling like an idiot and that set you off and we both had to look down at our hands as if we were taking careful notes. I don’t think we fooled anyone.
It was a wide-brimmed dark green felt hat like a cowboy’s or an adventurer’s. Even clean and new it would’ve been unlikely at a socialist conference in a university hall in south London: as it was it was extraordinary. It was old and pleasingly well-worn. It looked loved. But it was just filthy with dust.
‘His hat’s that dusty because he can’t take it off to clean it,’ you whispered. ‘Because his wife found out he gave her chlamydia and she put superglue in the brim.’
‘His hat’s that dusty because he’s arrived straight from tin-mining in Cornwall,’ I whispered. ‘Climbed straight out of a tunnel.’ I mimed flicking the hat’s brim and doubling over coughing.
Image courtesy of Macmillan
The 2015 Man Booker Prize Longlist was revealed this week, with only two of the 13 authors hailing from Africa – The Moor’s Account author Laila Lalami, who identifies as both Moroccan and American, and Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen.
The Telegraph, despite expressing concern over the American dominance of the prize this year, has shared reviews of six of the 13 longlistees. For our first Sunday Read, dive into the Booker Prize longlist:
Marlon James’s novel A Brief History of Seven Killings begins in 1976 with the attempted murder of Bob Marley. The story is true, like almost everything in this vast and teeming story of Jamaican violence.
‘Like most families,” Anne Tyler says of the Whitshanks, the main characters in her latest novel, “they imagined they were special.” From some writers, this would be a remark pitched somewhere between the snide and the openly scornful. In Tyler’s case, it combines sharpness, tenderness, satire and rueful comedy in eight words — possibly with a touch of admiration thrown in.
When Lila steps into his church one rainy Sunday morning, the Rev John Ames is startled with embarrassment. He stops preaching, looks at her, then looks away.
You could see The Green Road as virtuosic but inconsequential, but in its loose ends is a bold and brilliant way to approach the sadness of a family that fails to connect.
A novel is a place where past and present versions of one person can coexist, and in his fifth novel Andrew O’Hagan movingly explores the way the “flotsam” of a life can rise to the surface as old age and memory go about their strange and poignant work.
Reading Tom McCarthy’s fiction induces a certain kind of mania. It demands to be unpacked and decoded, charted and mapped. Every chapter – no, every sentence – invites you to plunge deeper into the book’s dark pool, groping for the submerged pattern.
From The Atlantic: The authors in the running for Britain’s most prestigious literary award come from seven countries and include seven women writers.
Find out more about the 13 longlistees:
Who do you think will win the 2015 Man Booker Prize? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below.
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2. Portlander Ursula K Le Guin is Breathing Fire to Save American Literature
From Portland Monthly: At 85, she may be Portland’s greatest writer. She may also be the fiercest.
3. Confessions of a bad feminist
From TED Talk: When writer Roxane Gay dubbed herself a “bad feminist,” she was making a joke, acknowledging that she couldn’t possibly live up to the demands for perfection of the feminist movement.
4. This Week in Fiction: Heinz Insu Fenkl
An interview with The New Yorker: Your story in this week’s issue, “Five Arrows,” follows a boy who goes to visit his uncle in the countryside of South Korea. Is this a landscape you know well? How important is the sense of place to the story?
5. Beatrix Potter, Mycologist: The Beloved Children’s Book Author’s Little-Known Scientific Studies and Illustrations of Mushrooms
From Brain Pickings: “Imagination is the precursor to policy, the precondition to action. Imagination, like wonder, allows us to value something.”
6. My Travels with Harper Lee
From The Millions: How the release of Go Set a Watchman sent one reader on a literary pilgrimage to rediscover the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.
7. ‘I’m No Longer Afraid’
From New York Magazine: 35 Women tell their stories about being assaulted by Bill Cosby.
And one more bonus Sunday Read, because who cares what the headline says?
Hemingway as the Godfather of Longform
From The New Yorker: Ernest Hemingway was one of the great innovators in literary form. His apparent renunciation of stylistic flourishes—the absence of lyrical rhetoric, the spare sketching of context, the paring of narrative voice to short, stark strokes—was the style of no style, an aesthetic obsession so fanatical and so closely linked to Hemingway’s sense of personal bearing and way of life that it comes off, in retrospect, as an inverse dandyism.
The 2015 South African Book Fair kicked off with a bang today in the Turbine Hall in Johannesburg.
The early risers were treated to a talk by Oxford University Press South Africa on the importance of mother-tongue instruction at foundation phase level.
Professor Elizabeth Henning from the University of Johannesburg and Mrs Bulie Ndodane gave their views on multilingualism in schools. Henning spoke about the importance of teaching young students mathematical concepts like time, density, volume, space and so forth in their mother tongues. “Language has structure and function – there shouldn’t be too much of a mix in the early years,” she said.
At 9 AM everyone gathered in the foyer to be welcomed to the fair by Brian Wafawarowa, the Executive Director of the Publishers’ Association of South Africa, MEC of Culture and Recreation for Gauteng, Molebatsi Frances Bopape, and PK Naicker, Programmes Executive at the FP&M Seta.
The first session in the Brink room featured Wasted author Mark Winkler and Bookstorm publisher Louise Grantham.
The author and publisher gave advice to writers on how to get published. Grantham said that the number-one rule is to conceptualise your book as a product. She said that writers must identify the correct publisher for their book and do intensive market research to find out who the book is aimed at.
Winkler said that if a manuscript doesn’t adhere to submission guidelines it will be binned. His advice is to submit good, clean copy in the correct format.
In the next session, Kathy McCabe introduced the “Talking Stories” programme – a learning tool that uses technology to improve literacy in classrooms. This initiative is powered by Macmillan Education.
The first day of the fair had a definite educational theme, with Jayne Bauling launching her book, Soccer Secrets, to a room full of primary and high school students. There wasn’t place for a mouse in the room as Bauling spoke about her Harmony High series. A group of students from Olico Youth performed a skit from Bauling’s previous book, Broken Promises.
The day ended with a panel discussion on the making of dictionaries, with Professor Phillip Louw and Megan Hall from Oxford University Press Southern Africa, chaired by Sue de Groot.
The three speakers discussed the evolution of the dictionary world, the excitement of publishing dictionaries in a multilingual country like South Africa, and shared some amazing South Africanisms that have made it into the latest South African Oxford Dictionary – e-tolls and loadshedding.
Throughout the day there were hordes of children milling about, soaking up the literature, and publishers exhibited their books and services in the two main halls.
A super day, and it’s only the beginning!
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See Annetjie van Wynegaard’s Twitter timeline for all the Book Fair action:
This Fiction Friday, read a short story by Laila Lalami, who was longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize this week.
Lalami was nominated for her novel The Moor’s Account, and although she was identified as American on the longlist, she was born and raised in Morocco.
To celebrate Lalami’s achievement, read her short story “The Turning Tide”, published in 2008 by Elle India, as part of their Elle Fiction series, “engaging short stories by writers from across the world”.
The Turning Tide by Laila Lalami by Books LIVE
Photo courtesy of flckd on Flickr
There are some exceptions to this rule, though, and Raymond Suttner is one of them. Suttner has struggle credentials that are second to none — he was imprisoned for his activities as a member of the ANC, and he served in Nelson Mandela’s parliament as an ANC MP.
Since then, he has fallen out with the party, but he has continued, in his meticulously studied, scholarly analyses, and with great tact and sensitivity, to probe the logic of current events. As a historian and emeritus professor attached to Unisa and Rhodes University, he has an acute, detailed and pragmatic understanding of the post-apartheid political economy.
It’s happening, it’s here. The South African Book Fair kicked off this morning at the Turbine Hall in Newtown. It’s Africa’s largest book fair, and incorporates 40 events, 44 new small publishers, and seven publishers from across the continent.
With fire in their hearts and warm coffee in their hands, the Books LIVE team stepped into the book lovers’ equivalent of wonderland on this frosty Friday morning. Here are some tweets about the morning from Ben Williams (@benrwms), Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer) and Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw):
For more exciting stuff from the South African Book Fair, follow #SABF2015. Join the conversation by using the tag in your own tweets, and share your SABF experience!
Here is a quick roundup of a few of today’s highlights:
Get published! – Mark Winkler talks about how he broke through the lit barrier and two publishers give their tips and suggestions on how to get published.
Time: 10 AM – 11 AM
Venue: Brink Room
Why is it important to talk to children in their own language? In this insightful talk, Elinor Sisulu, NLSA & PUO discuss “Children’s literature publishing in indigenous languages: How do we achieve a quantum leap?” Facilitated by the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation.
Time: 12 PM – 1 PM
Venue: Achebe Room
Ever suspected that there is more to soccer than simply soccer? Want to discover the drama beyond the pitch? Cover2Cover launches Soccer Secrets, the latest in our READALICIOUS Harmony High series, with author Jayne Bauling & a secret celebrity.
Time: 1 PM – 2 PM
Venue: Brink Room
What is a dictionary corpus? How do new words make it into a dictionary? And why are some removed? Why make South African dictionaries? Join the Oxford University Press dictionary publishing team, Megan Hall & Dr Phillip Louw, as they chat to Sue de Groot about the fascinating process of dictionary making.
Time: 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM
Venue: Brink Room
Each chapter tells a tasty tale, of tricky customers, picky eaters, grand chefs. Best of all, sit in your beloved kitchen with a glass of the good stuff – and Pete Goffe-Wood’s A Life Digested.
As part of their “Fine Minds” Radio Lecture Series, Fine Music Radio and the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Extra-Mural Studies will be presenting a lecture by JM Coetzee.
In his lecture, Coetzee uses Hendrik Witbooi, a fierce and determined opponent to the German takeover of what is now Namibia, as a focal point in the discussion of that country and 19th century conceptions of war, from both European and African perspectives.
The lecture will be broadcast on Monday, 3 August, at 6 PM. It is 55 minutes long, and will be available as a podcast after the broadcast.
Don’t miss it!