‘Cada Homem é uma Raça’ (‘Every Man is a Race’) by Mia Couto

My rating: 4 stars

Mia Couto’s writing style has an inventive quality to it, giving the eleven stories in the collection Cada Homem é uma Raça (Every Man is a Race in the translation into English) a curious sonority. Every story focuses on a particular person or group of people. Some of them have their lives changed either by individual actions or by the existing political and social realities.

The first story in the collection, ‘A Rosa Caramela’, is narrated by a young man from a village. He is not the main character, though. That is Rosa Caramela’s role. When she was younger, Rosa was left by a man whom she thought was going to marry her. Afterwards, she started behaving strangely and admiring a statue of a former coloniser. More than her inner feelings, the story is about how other people perceived her. The characteristic rhythm and sonority of the Portuguese from Mozambique immediately takes those reading it in the original on a journey there.

It’s not only the sound of the sentences that is distinctive, however. Mia Couto creates new words by turning everyday nouns and adjectives into verbs. This happens in almost all of the stories, but it is very pronounced and successful in ‘Rosalinda, a Nenhuma’, which is about how a woman dealt with the death of her unfaithful husband. In ‘O Ex-futuro Padre e sua Pré-viúva’, the author coined new words by mixing two together, which is slightly grating at times. This is the story of how a man who wanted to become a priest ends up marrying a woman, because she is believed to be pregnant.

Set before Mozambique became independent, ‘O Embondeiro que Sonhava Pássaros’ is the most affecting and impressive story in the collection. It revolves around a man who walks around the neighbourhoods where the white Portuguese live carrying cages full of birds to sell. The children love seeing him, particularly Tiago, but the adults with their prejudices want him gone. A sensation of loveliness is interrupted by moments of sadness. The magical realism elements introduced near the end make the tale even more moving than before.

Various worthy stories feature historical and socio-political elements, which can be more or less significant for the lives of the characters. The narrator of ‘O Apocalipse Privado do Tio Geguê’ has never met his mother. He grew up in the care of his uncle, who fought for independence. When his niece moves in with them, everything changes. ‘A Princesa Russa’ is for the most part a monologue, as Fortin is speaking to a priest during confession. He is telling about his time working for a Russian couple who moved to Mozambique to explore a mine. The woman was interested in knowing more about their working conditions. Fortin’s actions during that time still bother him. The main character in ‘Sidney Poitier na barbearia de Firipe Beruberu’ is a barber who considers himself the best in the region. To prove it, he pretends to have cut the hair of an American actor. He could not imagine that such an insignificant lie would have an impact on his life.

Not all stories are as attention-grabbing. ‘O Pescador Cego’, for example, didn’t caught my interest as much. It’s about a blind fisherman who tries to ensure that his wife doesn’t take his place on the boat. ‘A Lenda da Noiva e do Forasteiro’, which features many mystical beliefs, is not entrancing either, since the characters are not particularly vivid. A strange man with a dog is constantly seen passing near a village and its inhabitants are equally curious and concerned about his presence.

Despite a few duds, Every Man is a Race is surely to bring enjoyment to readers who are already familiar with Mia Couto’s novels and to make those who are not want to read them.

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