Monday, April 15, 2019

Drenched with Magic

First Published in 1994, only few years after the civil war ended in Mozambique Rain and Other Stories is a collection of 26 short stories that span from hopeful realism after the war to fantasy. Some descriptions are even dreamlike with subtle plots blended with idiosyncratic craft of the author. Not all stories resonate the war with stark images, and as said by Couto as a prologue, these stories are from those corners of living where war couldn't reach, voices that are ever present in the form of folktales, human complexions and desires. These dramatic tales of baffling outcomes poses characters in search of something not ordinarily present, and tragedies or even satires without the war in the center. The solitude of characters and the ways of finding solace are surprising for their odd ways as well as tenderness. The elevated language1 of the prose is present throughout the collection.

1.       Every tale loves to masquerade as the truth. But words are nothing more than smoke, too weightless to stick to the present reality. Every truth aspires to be a tale. Facts dream of becoming words, sweet fragrances running from the world. You’ll see in this case that it’s only in the fiction of our wonderment that the truth meets the tale.

Some add mystifying quality to the landscape, both dreamlike and meditative2, with narratives like folklore as in The Water of Time in which a grandfather takes his grandson on a voyage to the hinterlands of the marshes to teach him see the Others. Other stories include a blue eyed girl who'd stay behind amid the outbreak of the war for her father, with fantastical ending; A more than an ordinary guide parts with a blind man to enroll in the war, leaving behind the invented details for the blind man; Infidelity comes to light during a delivery and changes a husband wife relation forever; A shattered perfume bottle permeates a parting husband and wife's sorrows; A wife tries to find solace after her husband's death in odd ways; The title story Rain is a story of hope and doubt taking shape amid rain falling constantly to mark the end of war; A stubborn old man resist the evacuation, and starts digging in his backyard; A tragic fate of a boy under the flag; An old man feeling neglected at his ninety third birthday finds companion out of the family; A man who always tried to stay out of trouble falls victim to authorities; Sacred coconut fruit that could speak and is filled with blood; A hippo appears at a school and starts chewing furniture with tragic and fantastic outcome and other stories with varied tones and texture3.

2.       I’m no man of the church. I find it impossible to believe and this causes me distress. Because after all, I hold within me all the religiosity one could ask of any believer. I’m religious without religion. I suffer, you’d have to say, from a condition called poetry: I dream up places where I’ve never set foot, I believe only in that which cannot be proven. And even if I were to pray today, I wouldn’t know what to ask of God. This is my fear: only the mad don’t know what to ask of God. Or is it possible that God has lost faith in man? Anyway, my appetite for visiting churches comes only from the tranquilitude of these small vaulted spaces, filled with soothing shadows. Here, I’m able to breathe. Outside the world awaits with its unresolved calamities.

3.       I’ve been seated at the window watching the rain fall for three days now. How I’ve missed the soggy rin-a-tin-tin of each raindrop. The perfuming earth reminiscent of a woman on the eve of affection. How many years has it been since it last rained like this? Having lasted so long, the drought had slowly silenced our suffering. The heavens watched the earth’s progressive decline and saw its own death mirrored. We intirrigated ourselves: was it still possible to begin anew, was there still a place for joy?

These stories are almost fantastic imbued with despair born out of the ambience projecting the melancholy of being left alone, which the new generation cannot detect; Idiosyncratic longings of the characters, longings that are very personal of people driven by passion, rooted in reminiscence and betrayals. Philosophizing the gaps, puzzles of reality and beyond, deconstructing the silences, fooling about death and dreams like a shuffling of pictures and subtle play of politics and violence in the backdrop, culture taking shape, lost love, surprising outcomes, these are some of the themes found in the stories. Becker's translation offers the best the language has to offer and fully captures the essence of Couto's luminous prose.

Author: Mia Couto
Translator: Eric M.B. Becker                                                           
Publisher: Biblioasis
Page Count: 163
Price: $19.95

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THE LAKE by Bianca Bellová Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker