We Are Made of Memories: A Conversation with Mia Couto
May 2, 2013 | by Scott Esposito
Born in 1955 in Mozambique to Portuguese immigrants, Mia Couto is widely considered one of the foremost wielders of the Portuguese language. He has written over twenty books that have been translated into at least that many languages, and those translated into English since 1990 have garnered him a dedicated Anglophone following. Although Couto’s fiction varies widely, he frequently deals with Mozambique’s civil war, which erupted in 1977, two years after he turned twenty and his nation gained its independence from Portugal. His recurrent use of surreal effects in his work has led many critics to liken his fiction to Latin America’s magical realism, a label at which he bristles.
The Tuner of Silences, brought into English by Couto’s longtime translator David Brookshaw and published this year by Biblioasis, tells the story of Vítalico, a father who has dragged his children to an abandoned Mozambican nature preserve after the horrifying death of his wife. As Couto explores the nature of Vítalico’s regime and its eventual collapse, he delves into frequent obsessions: the construction of identity, and the role that memory and language play in that process.
Recently, over email, I discussed Tuner, influences, labels, and the curious provenance of Couto’s first name in email correspondence with him.