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The Tuner of Silences

The Tuner of Silences

4.5 2
by Mia Couto, David Brookshaw (Translator)

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“Quite unlike anything else I have read from Africa.""—Doris Lessing

“By meshing the richness of African beliefs . .



“Quite unlike anything else I have read from Africa.""—Doris Lessing

“By meshing the richness of African beliefs . . . into the Western framework of the novel, he creates a mysterious and surreal epic.”—Henning Mankell

Mwanito was eleven when he saw a woman for the first time, and the sight so surprised him he burst into tears.

Mwanito has been living in a former big-game park for eight years. The only people he knows are his father, his brother, an uncle, and a servant. He’s been told that the rest of the world is dead, that all roads are sad, that they wait for an apology from God. In the place his father calls Jezoosalem, Mwanito has been told that crying and praying are the same thing. Both, it seems, are forbidden.

The eighth novel by the internationally bestselling Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences is the story of Mwanito’s struggle to reconstruct a family history that his father is unable to discuss. With the young woman’s arrival in Jezoosalem, however, the silence of the past quickly breaks down, and both his father’s story and the world are heard once more.

The Tuner of Silences has been published to acclaim in more than half a dozen countries. Now in its first English translation, this story of an African boy's quest for the truth endures as a magical, humanizing confrontation between one child and the legacy of war.


“On almost every page … we sense Couto’s delight in those places where language slips officialdom’s asphyxiating grasp.”—The New York Times

"Even in translation, his prose is suffused with striking images.”—The Washington Post


"David Brookshaw dexterously renders the novel's often colloquial, pithy Portuguese into lively English. Brookshaw's task is made more exacting by the particular quality of Couto's brilliance.”—The New York Times

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher


Praise for The Tuner of Silences

The Tuner of Silences [published in English in 2013] is a wonderful book - it’s poetic, incorporating poetry into the chapters, and it also describes a kind of post-apocalyptic world that’s both very grim and strangely beautiful.”—Edwin Frank, founder and editor of New York Review Books

"Subtle and elegant."—The Wall Street Journal

"Remarkable ... If his recent Neustadt Prize is any indication, [Couto] is a presumptive Nobel Prize-winning writer that we ... should be reading."National Post

"Mia Couto, long regarded as one of the leading writers in Mozambique, has now been recognized as one of the greatest living writers in the Portuguese language … The Tuner of Silences cracks open a welcoming window onto a vast world of literary pleasures that has for too long remained under the radar in the English-speaking world."—Philip Graham, The Millions

"Lovers of African literature may find resonance here between Couto's writing and J.M. Coetzee's new novel, The Childhood of Jesus. Both turn away from the present to reflect on the ethics of our interactions with others and the parameters of our internal worlds. While Couto's work is ultimately more joyful, The Tuner of Silences remains a sad novel of poetic brilliance – haunting in its human landscape."—The Independent

"David Brookshaw's lyrical translation of Mia Couto's Portuguese lull[s] us into a hypnotized semi-acceptance of [an] impossible universe … Couto's narrative tone, at once deadpan and beguiling, and his virtuoso management of time, place him alongside the best Latin American magic realists."—Times Literary Supplement

"“Mia Couto is trying to lift the yoke of colonialism from a culture by reinvigorating its language. A master of Portuguese prose, he wants to lift that burden one word, one sentence, and one narrative at a time, and in this endeavor he has few if any peers.”—Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Executive Director, World Literature Today

"Some critics have called Mia Couto ‘the smuggler writer,’ a sort of Robin Hood of words who steals meanings to make them available in every tongue, forcing apparently separate worlds to communicate. Within his novels, each line is like a small poem.”—Gabriella Ghermandi

"A fine portrait of grief and loss ... and a strange fever-dream that jolts in and out of fantasy."—The Globe & Mail

"Couto's powerful, haunting, kaleidoscopic mythopoesis dramatizes the grievous, crumbling, post-nuclear family, forever on the run from its inevitable breakdown, with nowhere to go in a barbed-wire world where beauty provokes violence … a chthonic pietà carved from gnarled, screaming, ironwood stumps."—The Review of Contemporary Fiction

"To understand what makes António “Mia” Emílio Leite Couto special — even extraordinary — we have to loosen our grip on the binary that distinguishes between “the West” and “Africa." Couto is “white” without not being African, and as an “African” writer he’s one of the most important figures in a global Lusophone literature that stretches across three continents. The Tuner of Silences is an instantly recognizable part of this oeuvre … We begin with the magic, with fantasy, with the impossible, and we steadily discover, in the end, that it never really was, that it always was what we were trying to pretend it wasn’t. There is no magic. There is only reality."—The New Inquiry

"Couto is the author of six novels, six short story collections, and numerous other books, which have been published in more than twenty countries. His fable-like short stories, rooted in animist culture and an irreverent disregard for the conventions of formal literary Portuguese, celebrate African oral storytelling … Such white writers as Nadine Gordimer or J. M. Coetzee in neighbouring South Africa remain more observers than participants in the African culture that surrounds them, but Couto’s work, drenched in traditional African conceptions of time, ancestry, and belonging to the land, is widely read in Mozambique, and seen as representative of the country’s hybridized African culture."—The Walrus

"Starkly poetic … a novel of damaged souls in a damaged country, The Tuner of Silences is an eloquent tale of loss." —M.A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

"Couto’s language is rich, fertile, and often full of riddles that turn reality, as we know it, on its head. His stories straddle African and European worlds, and his preoccupations range across issues of race and identity, national culture and legacies of the country’s civil war ... translated into shimmering prose by David Brookshaw, The Tuner of Silences is a true tour-de-force of modern African writing ... Couto’s literary cosmos is unforgettable." —Anderson Tepper, Words Without Borders

"A phenomenal book … a paragon of contemporary African literature ... some of the most beautiful and moving prose being written today."—The Coffin Factory

“The biggest event in international literature this season could easily be the unexpected and magnificent novel of the Mozambican Mia Couto.... The fascination exerted by this novel, which one cannot put down, resides in its many resonances. The reader is immersed in the concrete, sensual, even comic nature of the universe into which he ushers us. Mia Couto has made his way discreetly in France as a short story writer and poet. Now we know that he is a very great novelist.”—L’Humanité (Paris)

“The language floats in a zone where existence becomes a paste of voices and silence. Couto’s ghosts have huge hearts but fine ears.”—Libération (Paris)

Praise for Mia Couto

“On almost every page of this witty, magic realist whodunit, we sense Couto’s delight in those places where language slips officialdom’s asphyxiating grasp.”
New York Times

“Quite unlike anything else I have read from Africa."
- Doris Lessing

"Even in translation, his prose is suffused with striking images.”
Washington Post

"Couto is considered the most-prominent of the younger generation of writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa. In his novels, Couto passionately and sensitively describes everyday life in poverty-stricken Mozambique." - The Guardian

"Mia Couto is a white Mozambican who writes in Portuguese, perhaps the most prominent of his generation of writers... Couto adroitly captures the chaos and comedy of an abrupt and externally imposed shift in ideologies. No one gets off lightly...The narrative shifts nimbly through a range of registers, from supple wordplay to lyricism." - London Review of Books

"Mia Couto from Mozambique has witnessed his country's tumultous struggle for independence, the drama of revolution, and a protracted civil war as a journalist and editor, a poet and novelist, and an environmental biologist. His novels bind national history to ancestral mythology. They are a vindication of how oral legends can be received in any language...The story of the home is told in desperate cries, seductive whispers and childish laughter. The novel has much to teach about patriarchy and change in a pre-industrial, post- revolutionary society. It shares, with the best fiction, mystery and revelation. A River called Time transports the reader to an island in which past, present and future co-exist, and the dead retain a vociferous presence." - The Independent

"To read Mia Couto is to encounter a peculiarily African sensibility, a writer of fluid, fragmentary narratives ... remarkable." - New Statesman

Praise for David Brookshaw

"David Brookshaw dexterously renders the novel's often colloquial, pithy Portuguese into lively English. Brookshaw's task is made more exacting by the particular quality of Couto's brilliance" - New York Times

Product Details

Publication date:
Biblioasis International Translation Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Mia Couto, an environmental biologist from Mozambique, is the author of 25 books of fiction, essays and poems in his native Portuguese. Couto’s novels and short story collections have been translated into 20 languages. Two of his novels have been made into feature films. His work has been awarded important literary prizes in Mozambique, South Africa, Portugal, Italy and Brazil. His books have been bestsellers in Africa, Europe and Latin America. Six of Couto’s books have been translated into English in the United Kingdom: two short story collections by Heinemann and four novels by Serpent’s Tail.

David Brookshaw is a professor of Hispanic, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies at the University of Bristol (London), and the General Editor of the HiPLA Monograph Series. He is the translator of six books by Couto, including Sleepwalking Land and The Last Flight of the Flamingo.

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The Tuner of Silences 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
jak18 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago