The Tuner of Silences

by Mia Couto

Central Question: Why write the ineffable?
Place of author’s birth: Beira, Mozambique; Year of author’s birth: 1955; Current population of Mozambique: 24,692,144; Awards bestowed upon author: Neustadt International Prize for Literature, Camões Prize for Portuguese-speaking author, Latin Union Literary Prize; Translator of novel: David Brookshaw; Representative passage: “But strangely enough it was the war that taught me to read words. Let me explain: the first letters I learnt were the ones I deciphered on the labels that were stuck on the crates of weapons.”

“There are no words” is an expected—some might say appropriate—response to certain events. After a death, for instance, we often turn silent or speak unusually succinctly, as if something more might try and fail to assuage. When we do venture toward that “something,” the imposition of words on emotions tends to become elliptical, and fails to capture the sentiment underneath.

In Mozambique, or in any other nation where trauma has been sustained over many years, it seems natural that artistic representations might veer intentionally toward the elliptical or the surreal, forms that bend around words and ideas more than they pinpoint them. Factual accounting can also be a kind of reprisal—gun specs, war projections, survival statistics—but civil wars, colonialism, and exile refute static certainty in the same way people and families do. Well-construed surrealism not only masks the real but also enhances what is most difficult to explain.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Abigail Sindzinski

Abigail Sindzinski lives in New York and, intermittently, California. She has worked as an editor for HBO, and holds degrees from Brown and the University of Virginia. Her interests include jazz, maps, and gardens.

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