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.
- 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature Winner Mia Couto: This Entity Called “Africa” is Imaginary
- Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto
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Author photo: Mia Couto on Facebook