Confession of the Lioness
Mia Couto's Confession of the Lioness (orig. written in Portugese) tells the tale of a village named Kulumani in Mozambique. Alternating points of view - Mariamar (resident Kulumani) and Archangel "Archie" Bullseye (a hunter) - make up the story. The premise of the tale is that lions have been attacking the women of Kulumani, and the town administrator has hired a hunter (Archie) to come kill the lions. As the tale weaves on, the reader discovers that the true heart of the novel is the treatment of women in Kulumani. As the LA Times puts it, "Bullseye quickly learns that staying ahead of danger in Kulumani means studying the men as much as the cats."
Confession of the Lioness reminded me of Another Brooklyn - not because of the subject matter (well, kinda), but because of the lyrical style in which the novel was written. I do feel strange that the author was a white man, obviously foreign to this African village, but in the character of the writer in the story I saw Cuoto grappling with his role as outsider. The story begins with an author's note that in 2008, he was sent to northern Mozambique as an environmental field officer and during that time, lions began to attack people. In four months, twenty people were killed. Couto writes
The hunters underwent two months of frustration and terror, responding to daily calls for help until they managed to kill the murderous lions. But it wasn't just these difficulties they had to face. It was suggested to them time after time that the real culprits were inhabitants of the invisible world, where rifles and bullets were no use at all. Gradually, the hunters realized the mysteries they were having to confront were merely symptoms of social conflicts for which they had no adequate solution.
This novel, therefore, is rooted in reality. Even though it often spins into magic realism, that is - as Cuoto points out in his author's note - what the people of Northern Mozambique believe. That people can become lions. After the author's note, the first chapter starts with an epigraph ("Blessed is the lion that the man will eat, for the lion will become human; and cursed is the man the lion will eat, for the lion will become human") and the first sentence is "God was once a woman."
If you're looking for a fantastic book in translation, or story that deals with tradition, legacies of war, and the impact of violence against women, look no further than Confession of a Lioness. Rating: ★★★★