Thursday, March 06, 2014


The Tuner of Silences, Mia Couto, translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw, Biblioasis, 2013, 282 pp

I read this because it was on the short list for the Tournament of Books. The reading experience was similar to reading other novels set in African countries and written by African writers. It felt very foreign and outside of my own experience. And yet I felt an affinity with and understanding of the characters caused by the excellence of the writing and I suppose the translation also.

The other morning I looked up some reviews of the novel and background on the author. While doing so, I realized The Tuner of Silences could be read on two different levels. One is to take what is there with no preconceived ideas which is how I read it.

I found a remnant of a family (a father and two sons, a servant and and uncle) living on the grounds of an abandoned game preserve somewhere in Africa. The wife of the father and mother of the sons is dead. We don't know until near the end of the book how she died but the father has become almost mad with grief and an undefined guilt.

The father runs his sons' lives with an iron hand, literally at times, determined to keep them entirely separate from the outside world. There has been a war (the servant is an ex-soldier) and you get the idea that all is irredeemably lost.

But boys will be boys, especially at ages eleven and sixteen. The uncle and the servant are wild cards as is a Portuguese woman who arrives out of the blue. All of these characters work against the father's desire for disconnection from the world, each in their own different ways.

I ended up loving the story and being moved by everything about it. But I did finish it wondering about its setting and the details of the surrounding world, so that would be the other level on which I could have read it, if I had known those things. I am glad I didn't because part of the spell worked on me was the dribbling out of clues and facts, creating in me the same desperation to know that drives the younger son who is the narrator. I learned what I wanted to know only as he did.

(The Tuner of Silences is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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