Mia Couto was born of Portuguese parents in Beira, Mozambique, in 1955. In 1974, he went to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) to study medicine, but became involved in nationalist politics immediately before and after the coup in Lisbon, which brought down the Portuguese dictatorship. When Mozambique became independent in June 1975, Couto gave up his studies to take up journalism. He was editor of a number of newspapers and magazines, and director of the state-run Mozambique Information Agency (AIM). He began publishing poetry and short stories in the 1980s, while also resuming his studies in biology. His first book of poetry, Raiz de Orvalho (Root of Dew), was published in 1983, and his first collection of short stories, Vozes Anoitecidas (Voices Made Night), was published in Maputo and Lisbon in 1986 to international acclaim. Since then, he has continued to publish short stories, novels and poetry at regular intervals, and has won a number of international prizes. He has also continued to contribute to the Mozambican press, and collections of his essays on current affairs have been published in book form. His first novel, Terra
Sonâmbula (Sleepwalking Land), published in 1992, was considered one of the six best African novels of the 20th century by a panel in South Africa. He currently works as an environmental biologist in Maputo, but his work takes him all over Mozambique.
Featured Reading Group Title
O Outro Pé da Sereia (The Mermaid’s Other Foot)
A novel of many journeys, including those of the Jesuit missionary Gonçalo da Silveira and his retinue in 1560/1, of Mwadia, the wife of a shepherd and donkey drover in today’s Mozambique, of an Afro-American couple and even of aone-footed statue of the Virgin.The novel represents to some extent a new departure in Couto’s work. There are the same colourful and sometimes comic characters who appear in other guises in his other novels. But at the same time, Couto, for the first time resorts to a more remote period of Mozambique’s past: its early colonial formation. For the very complexity of Mozambican society, especially in the area of the Zambezi Valley, dates from that early period, when the colony was administered, and largely settled from Goa. In this novel Couto works the historical into the contemporary as never before.
Recommended by David Brookshaw (translator and Professor of Luso-Brazilian Studies, Bristol University)
- O Outro Pé da Sereia (The Mermaid’s Other Foot) is featured in the And Other Stories Portugese Reading Group for Spring 2011
- [download id=”26″ format=”1″]translated by Jethro Soutar
- Also available in English online are two short stories published by the American literary review on translation, Words Without Borders
- His speech to the Waltic conference on translation, held in Stockholm in July 2008, is also online (see Mia Couto, ‘Languages we don’t know we know’