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The first in a trilogy about the last emperor of southern Mozambique by one of Africa's most important writers
Southern Mozambique, 1894. Sergeant Germano de Melo is posted to the village of Nkokolani to oversee the Portuguese conquest of territory claimed by Ngungunyane, the last of the leaders of the state of Gaza, the second-largest empire led by an African. Ngungunyane has raised an army to resist colonial rule and with his warriors is slowly approaching the border village. Desperate for help, Germano enlists Imani, a fifteen-year-old girl, to act as his interpreter. She belongs to the VaChopi tribe, one of the few who dared side with the Portuguese. But while one of her brothers fights for the Crown of Portugal, the other has chosen the African emperor. Standing astride two kingdoms, Imani is drawn to Germano, just as he is drawn to her. But she knows that in a country haunted by violence, the only way out for a woman is to go unnoticed, as if made of shadows or ashes.
Alternating between the voices of Imani and Germano, Mia Couto's Woman of the Ashes combines vivid folkloric prose with extensive historical research to give a spellbinding and unsettling account of war-torn Mozambique at the end of the nineteenth century.
The first in a trilogy about the last emperor of southern Mozambique by one of Africa's most important writers. Southern Mozambique, 1894. Sergeant Germano de Melo is posted to the village of Nkokolani to oversee the Portuguese conquest of territory claimed by Ngungunyane, the last of the leaders of the state of Gaza, the second-largest empire led by an African. Ngungunyane has raised an army to resist colonial rule and with his warriors is slowly approaching the border village. Desperate for help, Germano enlists Imani, a fifteen-year-old girl, to act as his interpreter. She belongs to the VaChopi tribe, one of the few who dared side with the Portuguese. But while one of her brothers fights for the Crown of Portugal, the other has chosen the African emperor. Standing astride two kingdoms, Imani is drawn to Germano, just as he is drawn to her. But she knows that in a country haunted by violence, the only way out for a woman is to go unnoticed, as if made of shadows or ashes.
In English, translated from the Portugese.
Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
In this first book in a trilogy about Portugal's efforts to subdue resurgent native forces in Mozambique in the heyday of colonialism, Sgt. Germano de Melo is punished for his political excesses at home by being exiled to Mozambique to subdue an uprising in the south led by Ngungunyane, the last native leader of the state of Gaza. The sergeant is aided by 15-year-old Imani, who speaks the colonial language and has chosen to side with the Europeans even as her family is split. She instinctively understands that when men wage war, which she likens to a midwife bringing forth another world from inside an older one, the only recourse for a woman is to move about unnoticed as if she were made of shadow or ash. Couto (Confession of the Lioness; Sleepwalking Land), who's deeply aware of the anomalies of his own life-he's a white man in black Mozambique, a scientist among the devoutly religious, a writer in an oral world, and a hopeful pessimist-applies his customary lyricism to the facts of this late 19th-century rebellion. VERDICT Alternating between Imani, whose voice is replete with long-held wisdom, and the letters of the bookish and poetic Sergeant de Melo to his commanding officer, Couto achieves a powerful narrative. [See Prepub Alert, 10/16/17.]-Jack Shreve, Chicago © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Couto's excellent novel, the first in a trilogy, chronicles the territorial power struggles of 1890s southern Mozambique, alternating between the voices of Imani, a 15-year-old living in the village of Nkokolani, and Portuguese sergeant Germano de Melo, who is sent to the village to protect Portugal's conquest from falling under the control of Ngungunyane, the leader of Gaza. Unfamiliar with his surroundings and the local language, de Melo-whose exile to Africa is punishment for an attempted military revolt-hires Imani and her brother, Mwanatu, to work as his translator and guard, respectively. De Melo earns the trust of some villagers by promising to protect them from Ngungunyane's forces, yet his garrison contains shoddy weaponry and the Portuguese army is nowhere to be found. As the weeks pass and de Melo's sanity begins to waver, Imani deals with an unstable home life, her new employer's sexual advances, and the possibility of seeing her village destroyed. Couto (Confession of the Lioness) feathers history with folklore; while readers with some knowledge of Mozambican history will get the most out of the novel, this is still a fascinating, intricate story. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Set in the village of Nkokolani, in southern Mozambique, in 1894, Man Booker Prize finalist Couto's meticulously researched novel tells the story of the conflict between Portuguese colonizers and the last remaining local leader, Ngungunyane, and his soldiers. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of the Portuguese representative, Sergeant Germano de Melo, and 15-year-old Imani, a girl who belongs to the VaChopi tribe, which has chosen to align themselves with the Portuguese, in opposition to Ngungunyane and his people. Imani's brothers, each of whom fights for a different side, represent the complicated nature of this conflict. Couto's mastery lies in his ability to turn his exploration of this slice of history into a commentary on all of human civilization. Richly translated by Brookshaw in words that suggest more than they say, Couto's tale evokes a sense of timelessness, especially in the world seen through Imani's eyes. An intriguing combination of folklore, history, and magic realism, and the first in a trilogy, this is a novel to be read and reread, savored and analyzed as Couto writes the names of the dead. So that they may be born again in the footprints we leave. --Viswanathan, Shoba Copyright 2018 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
A 15-year-old girl becomes central to a violent culture clash in late-19th-century colonial Mozambique.Imani, the main narrator of the opening novel in a planned trilogy by Couto (Confession of the Lioness, 2015, etc.), lives in the coastal African nation, ostensibly a colony of Portugal but more practically ruled by the emperor Ngungunyane. Imani's family, part of a separate tribe opposing the emperor, lives in fear of his coming invasion, which drives the story's plot; the Portuguese colonists are no more admirable and struggle to govern but offer at least a measure of protection. Set in 1894-95 in the months before Ngungunyane's violent ouster, the narrative braids Imani's observations, recollections, and recitations of folktales with letters from Germano de Melo, the Portuguese sergeant in charge of the territory where Imani lives. Early on, the divide between the two is wide: Imani's narrative has magical realist touches (her mother can't feel pain, her father is protected by the names of ancestors he writes on the ground, and ghosts abound), while Germano is blunt and condescending about the "superstitions unique to these ignorant folk." But he bends in time, in part out of political expediency as well as attraction to Imani. "You've got to be for him what all women are in this world," Imani's father insists, but she's too headstrong and intelligent to submit so simply. In time, the novel shows the inherent flaws in colonialism, its built-in ignorance, fickle management, and use of privation as a tool to control local people. But Couto also writes on a more subtle level, with Imani's vivid dreams and memories exposing the nature and impact of power and revealing how Western practices are folkloric too: "Europeans write the names of those they had buried on a stone. It's their way of resuscitating them."A rich historical tale thick with allegory and imagery that recalls Marquez and Achebe. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.