Nirmala Jayaraman at The Quarterly Conversation:
In an interview with The Paris Review, writer Mia Couto reflected, “We have a saying in Mozambique—women don’t have a tribe. This proverb evokes women’s capacity to cross boundaries and create more cohesive and harmonious identities.” However, Chiziane, the first Mozambican woman to publish a novel in her country, writes in The First Wife, “In my husband’s land, I’m a foreigner. In my parents’ land, I’m merely passing through . . . No woman has a home in this land.” I do not see these two perspectives as irreconcilable, rather they capture what changing boundaries can both bring and take away from a character like Rami who observes, “But traditions are born and die, like life” with such a matter of fact tone. Perhaps all of these changes, which have both given and taken loved ones away from each character, have led to a shared difficulty in expressing suffering.
What will happen to Couto’s warm enthusiasm and Chiziane’s chilled criticism over time? Hopefully more translations of their work will continue to be sought after anyway. To be clear, Chiziane’s views are not cynical. There is a brainy passion that erupts from all of the characters in The First Wife. Polygamy is not just used as a marriage plot but also as a metaphor for a system that is “out of control,” where one State is married to multiple exchange systems and whose children will inherit many histories to sort through once they become the heads of their own households and the next generation’s postcolonial writers.