New Internationalist

A River Called Time

November 2008

by Mia Couto
translated by David Brookshaw

This is the fourth of Mozambican author Mia Couto’s novels to be published in translation by the estimable Serpent’s Tail, following Under the Frangipani, The Last Flight of the Flamingo and Sleepwalking Land.  As with those books, A River Called Time is much concerned with identity and belonging, continuity and change. The principal narrator is Mariano, a student, summoned home from his urban, Westernized lifestyle on the death of his grandfather, Old Man Mariano. On arrival at his village, Mariano discovers that he has been selected by his grandfather to manage family affairs. This task is difficult given the sparring between various family factions, caught between attachment to tradition and the lure of lucrative but destructive commercial development. Mariano’s efforts to mediate are further complicated by what seem to be letters from his late grandfather, giving him disturbing information about his family and instructions on how to proceed. As the narrative passes from person to person, living to dead and back again, in a blur of characters and chronology, Mariano finds himself as the link between past, present and a tentative possible future, his journey culminating in revelations about himself, his family and his people. A River Called Time is a wry and subtle examination of a society that has endured war and suffering on an unimaginable scale but is, at long last, looking to rebuild. Given this glimmer of progress in Mozambique, coupled with the recent elections in Angola, is it too much to hope that, finally, Lusophone Africa can begin to look forward with hope for better times?


This column was published in the November 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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