July 13, 2020

19° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Close this


Advertise With Us

African postwar stories stellar

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/3/2019 (499 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Written in the aftermath of the civil war in Mozambique, Rain and Other Stories is author Mia Couto’s magnificent response to how the barbarity of war is overcome by, as he puts it, "the rain of hope," tenuous as that may be, and the dream of renewal.

A Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Portuguese-Mozambiquean descent, Couto has fashioned 26 very short stories in the form of prose poems encompassing fable, allegory, legend and a cross between magic realism and Kafkaesque mystery.

The wonder of the collection, indeed its grip on the reader, is that such seemingly disparate tales come together to ultimately present how the land is remade with the "water of ‘benedreamtion,’" a lovely word and indicative of the way Couto renews language as well throughout the stories.

Many are tales of transformation. In Beyond the River Bend, a hippopotamus crashes through a town and is eventually shot. It is revealed that, in fact, the creature was an old man who had died in the neighbourhood, and had returned to proclaim key prophesies concerning drought and plague. The creature is so large it really should be called "a hyper-potamus." No matter.

The official sent to kill it comes to realize he has killed a man, not a beast; retribution awaits. But a baby hippo offers a kind of salvation. The aching beauty of the story, entwined with its dark humour, gives the reader the same kind of peace that the tormented official finds.

In Serpent’s Embrace, another transformation has a snake killing a jealous husband from the inside for his suspicion over his wife’s affair with a UN peacekeeper (an outsider much resented by the local population). In lesser hands, the snake would be near cliché in its symbolism. Couto, a true master, makes the symbol universal: the biting snake is within us, and the answer is the realization that our life can only be cured with death.

The best of the transformation tales, Lamentations of a Coconut Tree, has a coconut producing not sweet water but blood; the fruit also cries out in a human voice. Skepticism greets the story when it is widely told, until the narrator understands that green coconut was sacred and left until ripe until the war and the outsiders who invaded the area had their way.

The further topsy-turvyness of this world leads the reader to believe that chicks given the coconut to eat were transformed into plants. Yet, from the fruit a voice is still heard, a cry needing to be acknowledged. Couto’s prose in this fable is measured throughout as if his realization — the sacred must be observed, the human need to communicate must be answered — requires a slow reckoning from the reader.

Many of the stories offer a link, nearly broken, making it clear that the country’s history from colonial past to recovering modern present is a saga of a people creating a myth to live by — as all people must.

Couto spares no one, nor is anyone condemned — with the exception, in the Kafkaesque story Two Clowns, of the menace of unyielding hate itself. While this hate seems to present a battle of two wills, it leads not to the destruction of the clowns who jocularly fight, but rather of the towns they visit.

Nearly each sentence is astonishing in this riveting, challenging collection.

Rory Runnells is a Winnipeg writer.


Advertise With Us

By buying through links provided on this page, you are supporting local writers, reviewers and book sellers.

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.


Updated on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at 9:12 AM CST: Format fixed.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us