The First Wife

Paulina Chiziane, trans. from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw. Archipelago (PRH, dist.), $18 trade paper (500p) ISBN 978-0-914671-48-0
Chiziane is widely considered one of Mozambique’s most important authors. Largely unknown outside of Africa, this new translation of her 2003 José Craveirinha Prize–winning novel will hopefully bring her name into larger recognition. Chiziane refers to herself as a storyteller instead of a writer; this seemingly minor distinction speaks volumes about the style of her work. The story of Rami and her journey toward something resembling freedom is told in lyrical, circular prose that heightens the universality of the situation in which she finds herself. Rami has been married to Tony for 20 years. They live in Maputo, where they have status and wealth, but have settled into an unhappy routine. He cheats on her with a progression of women. Eventually Rami’s unhappiness leads her to confront one such woman, Ju, who reveals that there is another, Luisa, and another, Saly, and finally Maua. The extent of Tony’s wanderings leaves Rami with few options. What follows is a careful examination of tradition clashing with modernity, most prevalently the place of women within Mozambique’s society, and within the world in general. The focus on first wife Rami and the feeling of inevitability in Tony’s continued pursuit of more “cattle” allows Chiziane the freedom to ask big questions: are women meant to suffer at the hands of men, and are they unable to find actualization and happiness for themselves? The style also allows her to make this tale of Mozambique universal and at times ambiguous. Slowly, painfully, as tradition looms in the background, Rami and the other women in Tony’s life begin to discover a space for themselves and what it can mean to be more than a part of a “loving hexagon.” (July)
Reviewed on: 05/16/2016
Release date: 07/26/2016
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