From Mozambique. A collection of short stories which were originally issued as two separate books, Voices Made Night (1990) and Every Man Is A Race (1994). This is my first sampling of Couto’s work and these short stories are very interesting reads to say the least. The stories from Voices are steeped in magical realism and African folklore while those in Every Man tend to have a more explicit political message. Many of these stories mine Mozambican history, from colonization to their bloody civi war to independence from Portugal. The issue of race is paramount in many of these stories and how the indigenous population were treated by their Portuguese colonizers. The stories that don’t necessarily have a political edge to them (or at least none that I can see) are surrealistic, folkloric tales which takes reality and turns it on its head for a most enjoyable experience.
The stories that stood out for me were The Fire, where an old man digs a grave for his still living wife in the pouring rain and once he completes it realizes he must kill her in order to justify all his hard work; The Talking Raven’s Last Warning, in which a villager vomits up a raven who protects its owner and threatens to curse the entire village; The Whales of Quissico, where a rural villager is accused of working with the rebels after claiming repeated sightings of a giant whale beaching itself and offering gifts; The Barber’s Most Famous Customer where a rural barber’s lie about cutting the hair of a famous American celebrity attracts the unwanted attention from the authorities; Rosa Carmela, the story of an ugly hunchback woman told by a man who grew up in the same village who discovers she may be closer to him that he ever realized; The Bird Dreaming Baobab, a black street merchants who sells birds earns the love from the neighborhood children but angers the white adults over the fact that he dared even enter their neighborhood; and The Rise of Joao Bate-Certo, about a boy who builds a ladder to the sky to collect clouds in order to help his ill mother.
After reading this I am curious to delve into his novels. A fantastic introduction to a fantastic writer. Highly recommended.