Tuesday, January 25, 2011

62. Neighbours: The Story of a Murder by Lília Momplé, A Review

Title: Neighbours: The Story of a Murder
Author: Lília Momplé
Translators: Richard Bartlett and Isaura de Oliveira
Genre: Fiction/Novella
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 133
Year of Publication: 1995 (In Portuguese), 2001 (In English)
Country: Mozambique

ASIDE: The cover illustration of this book (at least the version I have from Heinemann as shown on the left) is by Malangatana. I got to know this great artist on the day he died, January 5, 2011, through a fellow blogger Abena Serwaa. His paintings are so unique that the very moment I saw the cover of this book I knew it is hi work (though I had only known him and his works for about two days as of the time of reading).

When Mozambique gained its independence on June 25, 1975, the country sought to help freedom fighters in South Africa and Zimbabwe in their quest to shatter the chains of oppressive regimes: colonialism and apartheid respectively. However, the apartheid South African government of the time financed and sponsored armed groups in Mozambique called the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) to sabotage the new government through murder and various acts of terrorism. This sabotage was aimed at destabilising the new government and inciting the citizens to reject the influx of South African refugees and ANC (African National Congress - South Africa's political organisation that was fighting against the apartheid government) members into the neighbouring country. 

It is within this setting that Momplé's story is told. She writes in the preface:
Oppression can take many forms. Neighbours was written out of my horror at the way countries can abuse each other's sovereignty for their own ends with impunity. Like many Mozambicans, I lived through decades when South Africa did as it pleased in Mozambique in order to protect the interests of the apartheid regime. During this period many Mozambicans were killed or had their lives destroyed. It is to them that I dedicate this book.
A sad premise for a story, even more when the premise is factual rather than fictitious. Neighbours is a story about the lives of five families - two of which would later become the victims and three, the perpetrators - as they struggle through the dark days leading to Mozambique's independence and the gloom and hopelessness that hung over the country such that people thought it best to flee the country and seek better living in various European countries especially Portugal.

Romu is a black Mozambican whose allegiance to the Portuguese' (the colonialist) cause is runs deep and is unquestionable. This resolve to protect the colonialist's grip on power results from an unstable childhood heaped onto him by his promiscuous mother and his own delinquencies. So that when the colonialists lost its grip on power and acceded to FRELIMO's (the organisation that fought for independence) campaign and fight for independence Romu's heart was broken. He felt his entire life's work - fighting alongside the colonialist's troops as they killed black Mozambicans - has come to naught. It is within this sombreness that he was approached by the two South African terrorists - Rui (a Mozambican who had fled to South Africa after the unsuccessful September 7 reactionary coup d’état by Portuguese settlers) and a real South African Boer. Romu sees the killing of Mozambican citizens to further the cause of white supremacy in South Africa, which would perhaps lead to the return of the Portuguese to Mozambique, as a chance to bring back the colonialist to power. Thus, Romu's motive of joining this massacre is his hatred against his own people.

Zaliua's motive of joining this cause was a thirst for revenge. Having left his mother in the hinterlands of Mozambique into the city, Zaliua worked his way up to become the head of the Criminal Investigation Police in Nacala under the colonial government. Thereafter Zaliua resorted to cheating, and corruption to enrich himself. However, a year after independence he was deposed, arrested and sentenced to a prison term. His wealth having been accumulated through corrupt practices were confiscated. However, Zaliua upon release decides to seek vengeance on the country and its people that have let him down; that never saw what he did to help them - appreciating his works with a prison term and poverty.

Dupont's motive was financially motivated. Coming from a family where every member is well-off, he is considered a loser and his marriage to Mena worsened his plight amongst his family, as Mena is considered to be of 'low social class' or 'an inferior race'. And when his family left for Portugal, Dupont made it a point to amass wealth in order to prove to his family that he could make it without their help.

These three individuals together with the two terrorists entered into the neighbourhood of Narguiss, an obese woman who - at the night of Eid, when no moon has appeared to warrant the celebration - was waiting for his cuckold husband and Leia and Januario and their daughter, Iris, of two years.

The story is told within twenty-four hours with the sections marked by specific times that certain events took place. The storyline of each person or family seems to run independent of the other until they come together at the peak when the murders were committed. By providing enough background information of each person or family, the event of their deaths was more felt than it would have otherwise been had we known nothing about them. For instance, we know that Januario's family were burnt in his village after he was helped by his mother to escape the abjectness of their lives in the bush where he had lived with his family. We also know that Narguiss has a family of daughters, with the youngest at the university seeking to come out as a medical practitioner. We also know that that evening Narguiss was only waiting for the moon to appear and her husband to come home so they could celebrate the Eid together, as they had been doing over the years. And for all these innocent, normal people to be caught up in a scheme they know nothing about because one country wants keep its grip on power is, to say the least, upsetting.

Though this book is only 131 pages (excluding the glossary), all characters are fully developed and we could sympathise them, hate them, love them, pity them. Momplé strips the story down to its essentials. This story is thus a historical fiction, where the characters could easily be identified with by numerous individuals. My only problem is that it was short.

This is a book I would recommend to everyone lover of African literature especially the Lusophonic part of Africa.
Brief Bio: Lilia Momplé was born in 1935 on the Island of Mozambique and obtained a BA in Social Work in Portugal. She was Secretary General of the Mozambique Writers' Association from 1995 to 2001 and President from 1997 to 1999. She has also represented her country at a number of international cultural assemblies, and has recently been appointed to the UNESCO Executive Council. Her publications include No One Killed Suhara (1988), The Eyes of the Green Cobra (1997) and the script for the award-winning Mozambican video drama Muhupitit Alima (1988). Her novel Neighbours was first published in Portuguese in 1995. Lilia Momple lives with her husband in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 5.0 out 6.0


  1. I have added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit my blog and become a follower also.

  2. I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God bless, Lloyd

  3. This is a scary cover, I wouldn't want to read the book. LOL...

  4. Sounds like a great book, thanks for sharing.

  5. You inspired me to pick up this book. I've read it and enjoyed it. Yet to review. Thanks.

  6. @Geosi, I know you have read it, so please do justice to it.

  7. This sounds fantastic, I hadn't heard of the author but definitely want to read this now. Thanks for the great review.

  8. Nana nice review as usual.. I loved everything about this the novel.. translation was superb. I hope to do it justice. Thank you for reminding me you've read it.


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