A remote village in Mozambique has been prey to a series of lion attacks. Mia Couto’s novel tells the story through two narrators — Mariamar, a young woman whose sister was recently killed by a lion, and Archangel, a hunter from the capital who has been hired to eliminate the lions. As the tale proceeds, it becomes clear that literal lions are just one danger facing this community. Tensions between men and women, traditional and industrial viewpoints, and rural and urban areas all come to a head in the course of the hunt. The legacy of Mozambique’s decades-long civil war, and the violence against women that continues even when “peace” has been declared, permeate this novel.
Here are a few passages that stayed with me. But more than any one passage, the book evokes a powerful mood. I recommend it.
“Every morning the gazelle wakes up knowing that it has to run more swiftly than the lion or it will be killed. Every morning the lion awakens knowing that it has to run faster than the gazelle or it will die of hunger. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle: When the Sun rises, you’d better start running. –AFRICAN PROVERB”
“There’s only one way to escape from a place: It’s by abandoning ourselves. There’s only one way to abandon ourselves: It’s by loving someone.”
“I’ve never liked airports. So full of people, so full of no one. I prefer train stations, where there’s enough time for tears and waving handkerchiefs. Trains set off sluggishly, with a sigh, regretting their departure. But a plane has a haste that’s inhuman.”
“We don’t need enemies. To be beaten, all we need is ourselves.”
Here are excerpts from a few professional reviews:
- The Guardian: “Couto renders the politics of everyday living poetically but his focus on the status and treatment of women displays a stout refusal to look away from a harsh reality – fiction brings us closer to the truth here than mere facts ever could.”
- Los Angeles Times: “Mia Couto’s somber and masterfully wrought novel ‘Confession of the Lioness’ examines a village in danger, a place where ‘the border between order and chaos was being erased.'”
- Kirkus Reviews: “A haunting, ethereal flight of magical realism.”
- Financial Times: “A radical call for change framed in a semitraditional form; a book of profound disenchantment written in language that seeks to re-enchant the world.”
I listened to and enjoyed the unabridged audiobook, narrated by Kevin Kenerly and Lisa Renée Pitts.