A dead man, Ermelindo Mucanga, narrates how he has died while working on the restoration of an old Portuguese slave fort. This doesn?t upset him because he won?t have to witness the degradation of his country after the civil war that followed the independence.
But decades after being dead, his body is unearthed to be given a state funeral: Ermelindo is now considered a national hero. But he doesn?t want to be a hero, and he knows that if his body is moved, he?ll have to exist forever as a ghost. He seeks advice with a pangolin, an animal that in Mozambican lore has supernatural powers, and is advised to enter the body of a detective investigating a murder in the fort and wait for him to die. The detective?s death is foretold and Ermelindo only has to wait six days before his new host dies and he can achieve peace again.
If it looks like I?m giving way too much of the plot, let me tell you this is all covered in the first, short chapter.
So Ermelindo possesses Izidine Na?ta and becomes a spectator inside him of the events that unfold. The old fort has become an asylum for elders and Izidine has to discover who murdered the director. The novel follows six days in which he questions six residents, each one giving a different account of what happened and each one claiming responsibility for the murder.
Through the testimony of each resident, the author brings up the destruction of the old Mozambican traditions, racial hatreds, the civil war, disenchantment with the independence, the plight of the land mines, the weapons trade, corruption within the Mozambican government, and reconnecting with one's roots.
Although I have yet read a Mia Couto novel that bears the qualities of high literature, I do love his talent for wordplay and building lyrical sentences. Part of his style is creating portmanteau words, which perhaps makes translations complicated. But he?s one of the best innovators of the Portuguese language, always reinventing it with new words.