Mia Couto

Mia Couto

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)

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  1. Stefan Tobler says:

    I’ve just started O Outro Pé da Sereia. It’s a really enjoyable read so far. I’m not sure yet how the story about the crashed spy drone, which the shepherd / donkey drover finds, will fit into this novel, but I’m looking forward to finding out.
    And the idiomatic phrases are wonderful. The drover goes to a local medicine man for some advice (even though he’s a member of an evangelical Christian group), and asks for a drop of the hard stuff. A dream has scared him. The medicine man says, surely you aren’t allowed to drink? His reply: No, nor am I allowed to visit you. ‘One sin forgives the other.’
    Lovely reasoning, must remember that one! Looking forward to hearing what more readers think.

  2. Jim says:

    A really refreshing read – the characters have very different mindsets to so much Western fiction.
    Last Flight of the Flamingo is great too:


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