Mia Couto









© Alfredo Cunha


Mia Couto, born in Beira/Mozambique in 1955, is among the most prominent writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa. After studying medicine and biology in Maputo, he worked as a journalist. Besides writing, he is now a biologist and teaches at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo. In 2013, Mia Couto was awarded the Camões Prize for Literature 2013 and the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2014. He was among the six finalists of the Man Booker International Prize 2015 with his body of work and 2017 his novel Confession of the Lioness was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.


His books have been published in over 30 languages.


Have a look at the author’s homepage: http://www.miacouto.org/



The Elegant Terrorist (and other stories) (O terrorista elegante e outras histórias) is made up of three stories based on theatre plays written jointly by José Eduardo Agualusa and Mia Couto, commissioned by the theatre groups A Barraca, from Lisbon, and Trigo LimpoTeatro ACERT, from Tondela in Northern Portugal. In The Elegant Terrorist, which gives its title to the book, an Angolan is arrested in Portugal for his alleged participation in acts of terrorism. The man claims to be able to fly and talks to a bird in prison, which seems to give him the necessary guidance to fulfil his mission. – „I come here to kill.“ This is how the protagonist of It Rains Love in the Street of the Killer (Chovem amores na rua do matador), the second story, finally tries to make peace with his past: by killing the three women in his life. The city night plunges into chaos and, as the conflict unfolds in the dark streets, a masked stranger looks for someone to kill. In Black Box (A Caixa Preta), generations of the same family are forced to face their best-kept secrets. Three delicious short novellas, full of humour and suspense, by two of the most popular and renowned fiction authors in Portuguese.


A book of singular importance, which represents a high and expressive flight of wisdom undertaken by two great writers from the Portuguese-speaking world, who reveal the history, culture, and destiny of others and of themselves. In each of these texts there is a clear willingness to touch on subjects such as abuse, violence and abandonment, in a manner that is both subtle and crude, and that humour is so often the crudest and yet the best way to say what needs to be said. Mia Couto and José Eduardo Agualusa are, at the very least, to be thanked for their audacity and ingenuity.

Francisca Moura, Deus me Livro



The Sands of the Emperor (“As areias do imperador”) is a fascinating trilogy about the last of southern Mozambique’s emperors, Ngungunyane. Mia Couto achieves the miracle of personalizing history. His language does not overwhelm and does not accuse. It astonishes, makes beauty and terror palpable and shows the abysmal strangeness inherent in such an unequal encounter of cultures. To show this strangeness is perhaps the first step in dealing with the Other.


Woman of the Ashes (“Mulheres de cinza”) is the first part of the trilogy. As punishment, the military sergeant Germano de Melo is posted to the African village of Nkokolani to oversee the Portuguese conquest of Ngungunyane’s empire. There he encounters Imani, a 15-year-old girl who helps him with her language skills, and a people torn between two sides: while Imani‘s brother Mwanatu is fighting for the Portuguese crown, Dubula has chosen Ngungunyane. Slowly and with all their differences, Imani and Germano are drawn to each other. But in a country haunted by men and war, the only hope for a woman is to remain unnoticed, as if made of shadows and ashes.

In his characteristically beautiful prose and alternating between the voices of Inami and Germano, Mia Couto gives us a vivid and unsettling account of a Mozambique at war at the end of the 19th century.


A rich historical tale that recalls Marquez and Achebe.

Kirkus Reviews


An excellent novel, a fascinating, intricate story.

Publishers Weekly


The Sword and the Spear (“A espada e a azagaia”), the second part of the trilogy, tells of the gradual demise of the kingdom of Gaza in Mozambique. After the attack on his quarters, the defeated sergeant Germano de Melo needs to be taken to hospital. The only one within reach is along the river Inhambane, so Imani goes on an arduous river journey with her father and brother. Meanwhile war rages around of them: the Portuguese occupiers and the king of Gaza’s warriors fight fierce battles with swords and spears, until the arrival of the machine gun ensures European supremacy. Germano wants to start a new life with the young Imani, but the Portuguese military have other plans for the injured soldier. Imani's father also has different plans for his daughter: as one of Ngungunyane's wives, she would be close enough to the tyrant to avenge the destruction of their village...

With poetic beauty, Mia Couto points to the futility of war and the boundaries of cultures that are apparently foreign to each other; boundaries which entire societies, but also families and lovers, conceive as simultaneously in decline, and yet still existent.



One of the richest and most important authors in Africa.

Henning Mankell


It is not possible to catch the wind with a sieve.



With The Drinker of Horizons (“O bebedor de horizontes”) Mia Couto completes his trilogy The Sands of the Emperor (“As areias do imperador”). The book can be read as a self-contained novel, but also picks up exactly where the second volume of the trilogy ended. It continues the love story between the fifteen-year-old African woman Imani and the Portuguese sergeant Germano de Melo. But the two will not meet again in this life: while Germano is left behind in Africa, Imani must accompany the imprisoned king of Gaza Ngungunyane and his seven women as an interpreter on the long voyage to Lisbon. For everyone but her, it will be a journey of no return. At the same time it is an odyssey through the Portuguese colonial empire at the turn of the year 1895/96. After showing the defeated "Barbarians" to the people and the international press in Lisbon, the king of Gaza is deported to the Azores. The women, among them Imani, who has to leave her new-born son Sanga with Germano's mother, are brought to São Tomé. Imani finds a foothold above all with Dabondi, the youngest woman Ngungunyanes, who is a kind of seer and speaks in parables. Only after the fall of the monarchy in Portugal in 1911 does Imani return to her home village. On the return journey via Lisbon, she sees her son one last time.

Mia Couto achieves the miracle of personalizing history. His language does not overwhelm and does not accuse. It astonishes, makes beauty and terror palpable and shows the abysmal strangeness inherent in such an unequal encounter of cultures. To show this strangeness is perhaps the first step in dealing with the Other.



Confession of the Lioness (“A confissão da leoa”) tells the captivating story of the hunter Arcanjo, who is sent to an African village haunted by man-eating lions. There he slowly discovers the darkest secrets of its inhabitants, victims of brutality and inhuman traditions. Based on true facts and written in atmospheric language, Confession of the Lioness skilfully interweaves the enthralling stories of Arcanjo

and his former lover Mariamar, constantly surprising the reader with unexpected twists and turns.


Have a look at an English extract on bookanista here!


Fiction brings us closer to the truth here than mere facts ever could.

The Guardian


Somber and masterfully wrought . . . an intoxicating dance of hunter and hunted.

Los Angeles Times


Its earthy wisdom and shimmering magic will make you want to discover more of Couto’s work.

Vanity Fair


Myths, magic, tradition and reality intersect to the extent that it becomes difficult to tell them apart.

Denver Post


Beautifully narrated!


A story in which anything can be true, even dreams.



It’s as if the reader is surrounded by a spell. The word-magician stands before us.

Neues Deutschland


Mia Couto’s work is among those that really count.

La Quinzaine


The captivating chronicle of a village, whose language unfolds with great suggestive power.

Deutschlandradio Kultur


Jesusalém tells the fascinating story of a family whose lives were shaped by a deeply hidden tragedy. Mwanito and his father Silvestre live far removed from civilization when suddenly a woman appears to disturb their peaceful world, bringing them back to the city. There, Mwanito finally finds out how his mother died and what drove his father to insanity and into the wilderness. A powerful story about oblivion and how we deal with pain and guilt. The novel has been longlisted for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award 2015.


A kind of magic realism with African roots that will enthral the reader.

El País, Babelia


Another demonstration of how the musicality and the poetry of Mia Couto’s warm words are the perfect camouflage for addressing major issues.

Os Meus Livros



In God's Poison, Devil's Relief (“Venenos de Deus, Remédios do Diabo”) three inhabitants of Vila Cacimba, a small village in Mozambique, are the protagonists: Bartolomeu Sozinho, a retired mechanic, his mulatto wife Munda, and Alfredo Suaecelência, the local authority a vain, corrupt administrator who has been friends with Bartolomeu since childhood and is in constant competition with him. Sidónio Rosa, a Portuguese doctor and aid worker with the task of dealing with an epidemic of meningitis in Vila Cacimba, is a witness to this conflict, which is loaded with sexual tension. Gradually, Sidónio comes to recognise the secrets and contradictions of the African village.

In reality, Sidónio Rosa came to the village in search of Deolinda, who he had met and fallen in love with in Portugal. She is Bartolomeu and Munda's daughter, allegedly away on a trip. Again and again, Sidónio walks the path from the village's only boarding house, to the couple's home to visit Bartolomeu, who is suffering from severe diabetes. He becomes a kind of mediator between the old couple, who argue and fight although they still love each other. The couple tell him they are only in contact with their daughter by letter, but it later transpires that she died during the abortion of Suaecelência's child. The administrator maintains she died of AIDS. The competition between Bartolomeu and the village head is to do with politics and also with love, as Bartolomeu has reason to suspect that his wife is also Suaecelência's lover.

All the protagonists are caught up in a web of contradictions  even Sidónio, who claims to be a doctor but has not yet finished his medical degree and ought not to be treating patients. In African narrative tradition, the truth is just as important as its many variations. This book is a beautiful illustration of how people weave illusions around themselves so that they do not have to die.


The Sirene’s Other Foot (“O outro pé da sereia”) is set in Mozambique in the year 2002. Mwadia Malunga and her husband, the shepherd Zero Madzero, discover a statue of the Virgin Mary. Mwadia is keen to bring the statue to Vila Longe, her place of birth, to keep it in a secure place. She is delighted to return to the village where she was born. The reader becomes acquainted with Mwadias mother, her stepfather, Lázaro the Curandeiro, the inhabitants of Vila Longe and finally, an Afro-American from the United States, allegedly on a quest for his lost African roots along with his Brazilian wife.

On pages of ever-shifting tone and colour, narratives of the present alternate with stories from the past. The statue of the Virgin Mary that Mwadia would find over four hundred years later, was transported on a ship from Goa to Mozambique in 1560, by the Jesuit missionary Dom Gonçalo da Silveira. It was his gift for the ruler of the mythical realm of Monomotapa and was to convert the people to Christianity. On the ship, which also carries slaves, he is accompanied by the young priest Manuel Antunes, who in the course of the crossing speaks out against the inhumane handling of the slaves. A lively picture emerges from colonial times up to the present day. And it would not be a book by Mia Couto if the author were not to capture the magical, mythical world of Mozambique with the all musicality of his language, linking the daily lives of his country’s people in past and present.


As in The Last Flight of the Flamingo (“O último voo do Flamingo”) or A River Called Time, a House Called Earth (“Um rio chamado tempo, uma casa chamada terra”) the author continues using his very own, uniquely melodic language to describe a world deeply marked by traditional forms yet caught up in the process of constant change in present-day Mozambique.


The Sleepwalking Land (“Terra sonâmbula”), his first novel, was praised by the critics as one of the best novels in the Portuguese language to have appeared in recent years. In 2002 the Jury Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century” selected Terra sonâmbula among the top twelve. Its scenario is the battle for survival in the civil war in Mozambique. Similar to the magical realism of Latin America, in this novel and in Under the Frangipani Tree (“A varanda do Frangipani”) Couto conjures up the nightmare of an omnipresent threat in a way which combines historical truth with individual dreams and living collective myths.


A born poet.

2018 Top Ten Books Award by Sunshine Daily, China


An incomparable masterpiece.

Su Ye, literary critic and poet



After his first volume of poems Couto published several short story collections and novels. He describes everyday life in Mozambique, a country whose people are among the world’s poorest and most maltreated after three decades of civil war. In the process of doing so, Couto integrates elements of his country’s oral tradition and his prose, which is of great musicality, succeeds in creating surreal-ghostly atmospheres out of a concrete link with reality.



For young readers:


The Water and the Eagle (“A água e a águia”) is about a period of drought and how it is finally stopped by an old eagle. This old eagle starts eating the "i" in the name of her species, so "Águia" (Eagle) is transformed into "Água" (Water), and this way the water comes back. But only for a time: after the eagles have discovered how great it is to eat “i”s, they cannot stop, and the “rio” (river) stays without the “i” and dries out. Finally the oldest eagle decides to take a risk and despite everybody’s warnings, flies to a cliff and vomits all the "i"s she has yet eaten - and the water and the river come back!

This is a poetic and beautifully illustrated book about how ingenuity and courage can change the world.



Suddenly, in an African village, the rain does not fall, it is suspended, "amazed", says a little boy from the village. The river is also drying up. Is it the fault of a factory nearby? Is it magic? What role do the old myths and legends play here? Can the cloud senders solve the problem? In The Amazed Rain (“A chuva pasmada”) Mia Couto leads us to a magical universe, to which the beautiful illustrations of Danuta Wojciechowska add a special touch.



Books are not meant to be written for children. We will barely be old enough to live in stories. Delighted, like the characters in this little book. In this way, in Little Word Kisses (“Beijos de palavrinha”), we will be able to be kissed by words. When Maria Poeirinha fell ill, Uncle Jaime Litorânio said that only the sea, which she had never seen, could cure her. The girl was too weak for the journey, but her brother Zeca Zonzo found a way to take her to see the sea. The magic power of words is the theme of this second book for children by Mia Couto, once again with magnificent illustrations by Danuta Wojciechowska.



Pintalgato, a kitten, is always being warned by his mother not to step beyond the borders of the day. But he, crazy to discover what hides under the shadow of the night, decides to venture out and ends up having an unusual encounter with the dark. When he returns to the light of day, he discovers that his coat, previously yellow with little spots, is now black as night, and he is terrified. With his mother's help, however, he realizes that the fear of the dark, in fact, is the fear of the "dark ideas we have about the dark".

In engaging prose and full of little poetic surprises, in The Kitten and the Dark (“O gato e o escuro”) Mia Couto elaborates a beautiful fable about the afflictions and enchantments of the unknown. In the words of the author: "Most of the fears we have suffered, as children and adults, have been fabricated to rob us of curiosity and to kill the desire to know what exists beyond the horizon."






Trilogy “As areias do imperador” (“The Sands of the Emperor”)

The Drinker of Horizons (”O bebedor de horizontes“)

Lisbon: Caminho 2017, 384 p.

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2018 China: Citic France: Métailié German: Unionsverlag Spain: Alfaguara 2018


The Sword and the Spear (”A espada e a azagaia“)

Lisbon: Caminho 2016, 462 p.

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2016 China: Citic France: Métailié German: Unionsverlag 2017 Spain: Alfaguara 2018 USA: Farrar, Straus & Giroux


Woman of the Ashes (”Mulheres de cinza“)

Lisbon: Caminho 2015, 408 p.

English translation available

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2015 China: Citic France: Métailié German: Unionsverlag 2017 Lebanon: Dar al Adab (Arabic) The Netherlands: Querido 2016 Spain: Alfaguara 2018 USA: Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2018, Audiobook 2018, Picador pb 2019


Confession of the Lioness (”A con­fissão da leoa“)

Lisbon: Caminho 2012, 270 p.

Shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2017

Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2015

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2012, 2015 Catalan: Periscopi 2016 China: PRH 2018Croatia: FrakturaFrance: Métailié 2014 German: Unionsverlag 2014; pb. 2016 Hungary: Európa 2016 Italy: Sellerio 2014 Lebanon: Dar al Adab (Arabic) The Netherlands: Querido 2017 Spain: Alfaguara 2016 Turkey: CinarUK: Harvill Secker 2015 USA: Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2015, Picador 2016



Lisbon: Caminho 2009, 294 p.

Film rights sold to BRO, LDA, Portugal

Longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2015

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2009 Canada: Biblioasis 2013 China: Citic 2018 France: Métailié 2011 Germany: Wunderhorn 2014 Italy: Sellerio 2015 Serbia: Geopoetika 2013Spain: Alfaguara 2012 Sweden: Leopard 2015 UK/USA: Biblioasis 2013


God's Poison, Devil's Relief (“Venenos de Deus, Remédios do Diabo”)

Lisbon: Caminho 2008, 188 p.

Film rights under option

Argentina: Edhasa 2019 (Latin American rights) Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2008 France: Métailié 2013 Italy: Voland 2011 Mexico: Almadía 2010 Russia: Inostrannaya Literatura 2012 Spain: Txalaparta 2011 Sweden: Panta Rei


The Sirene’s Other Foot (“O outro pé da sereia”)

Lisbon: Caminho 2006, 382 p.

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2006 Spain: El Cobre 2009 Sweden: Leopard 2010


A River Called Time, a House Called Earth

(“Um rio chamado tempo, uma casa chamada terra”)

Lisbon: Caminho 2002, 262 p.

Argentina: UNSAM 2016 Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2003 France: Albin Michel 2008 Italy: Guanda 2005 Serbia: Geopoetika 2011 Spain (Catalan): Ediciones 62 2009 UK: Serpent’s Tail 2008


The Last Flight of the Flamingo (“O último voo do flamingo”)

Lisbon: Caminho 2000, 225 p.

Feature film released in 2010

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2005 Finland: Like 2001 France: Chandeigne 2009 Greece: Dardanos The Netherlands: Van Gennep 2007 Poland: PIW 2005 Romania: Art Slovenia: Beletrina 2005 Spain: Alfaguara 2002 Sweden: Ordfront 2002 UK: Serpent’s Tail 2004


Under the Frangipani Tree (“A varanda do Frangipani”)

Lisbon: Caminho 1996, 154 p.

Andorra: Limits 1998 (Catalan rights) Argentina: Edhasa Brazil: Companhia das Letras Croatia: V.B.Z. 2003 Cuba: Arte y Literatura 2009 Finland: Like 2006 France: Albin Michel 2000 German: Alexander Fest 2000, pb Unionsverlag 2007 Italy: Guanda 2002 Mexico: Elefanta 2014 Norway: Aschehoug 1999 Poland: Bertelsmann Media 2009 Romania: Art 2008Sweden: Ordfront 1997 UK: Serpent’s Tail 2001, pb 2008


The Sleepwalking Land (“Terra sonâmbula”)

Lisbon: Caminho 1992, 220 p.

Feature Film, Pandora 2006

Brazil: Nova Fronteira 1993 Catalan: Periscopi 2018 China: Citic 2018 Croatia: V.B.Z. 2005Czech Republic: BB Art Publishers 2003 Denmark: Hjulet 2000 France: Albin Michel 1994 (avail.) German: dipa 1994, pb Unionsverlag 2014 Greece: Aiora 2003 Israel: Carmel 2004 Italy: Guanda 1999, pb 2002, Sellerio Editore Lebanon: Dar al Adab (Arabic) Macedonia: Ars Lamina The Netherlands: Ambo Anthos 1996, Van Gennep 2008 Norway: Aschehoug 1994 Poland: Karakter 2010 Slovenia: Beletrina Spain: Alfaguara 1998, 2019 Sweden: Ordfront 1995, pb 1999 Taiwan: Homeward 2018 UK: Serpent’s Tail 2006 Ukraine: CalvariaUruguay: Banda Oriental



An Obliging Robber (“Um Gentil Ladrão“)

Lisbon: Visão, 2020

Sweden: Karavan USA : NYT, 2020


O Terrorista elegante (e outras histórias)
together with José Eduardo Agualusa

Brazil: Tusquets 2019, 176 p.

Lisbon: Quetzal (Betrand)

China: Citic


Black Box (“A Caixa Preta”)

(in: O Terrorista Elegante e outras histórias, together with José Eduardo Agualusa)

Film rights sold to Filmes da Praça, Portugal, under the title Nayola, directed by: José Miguel Ribeiro


O fio das missangas

Lisbon: Caminho 2004, 148 p.

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2009

Bulgaria: Janet 45 France: Chandeigne 2010 Italy: Quarup 2011 Poland: Inst. of Iberian and Ibero-American Studies 2008 Spain: Le Tour 87


Na berma de nenhuma estrada

Lisbon: Caminho 2001, 184 p.

Bulgaria: Janet 45


Twenty and Tin (“Vinte e Zinco”)

Lisbon: Caminho 1999, 142 p.

France: Albin Michel 2003 Italy: Urogallo 2013


Stories of the Earth Being Born (“Contos do nascer da terra”)

Lisbon: Caminho 1997, 245 p.


Estórias abensonhadas

Lisbon: Caminho, 1994, 186 p.

PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant 2014 for the English translation

Brazil: Nova Fronteira 1996 Canada: Biblioasis France: Albin Michel 1996, Chandeigne 2016 Poland: Inst. of Iberian and Ibero-American Studies 2008



Lisbon: Caminho, 1991, 193 p.

Chile: LOM 2005 (Latin American rights) France: Albin Michel 1996 Italy: IBIS 1998 Spain: Txalaparta 1996, 2011


Every Man is a Race (“Cada homem é uma raça”)

Lisbon: Caminho 1990, 181 p.

Brazil: Nova Frontiera 1998, Companhia das Letras Estonia: Loomingu Raamatukogu 2015 France: Albin Michel 1996 Italy: IBIS (avail.)Poland: Inst. of Iberian and Ibero-American Studies 2008 South Africa: Penguin Books 2010 Spain: Alfaguara UK: Heinemann 1993


A Princesa Russa

(included in the volume of stories Every Man is a Race)

Film rights under option


Voices Made Night (“Vozes anoitecidas”)

Lisbon: Caminho 1986, 169 p.

Belgium: Houtekiet (Dutch) 1996 France: Albin Michel 1996 Italy: Lavoro 1989 (avail.) South Africa: Penguin Books 2010 Spain: Txalaparta 2001 UK: Heinemann 1990



Short Prose:


Pensageiro frequente

Lisbon: Caminho 2010, 136 p.

Canada: Biblioasis 2015


E se Obama fosse africano? e outras interinvenções

Lisbon: Caminho 2009, 216 p.

Canada: Biblioasis France: Chandeigne 2010 USA: Biblioasis 2015


Pensatempos. Textos de opinão

Lisbon: Caminho 2005, 157 p

Canada: Biblioasis USA: Biblioasis 2015




Tradutor de Chuvas

Lisbon: Caminho 2011, 120 p.


Raiz de Orvalho

Lisbon: Caminho 1999, 99 p.

Spain: CEDMA 2009



For young readers:

The Water and the Eagle (“A água e a águia”)

Ill. by Danuta Wojciechowska

Lisbon: Caminho, October 2018, 27 p.

Brazil: Companhia das Letras/Editora Schwarcz 2019 China: Citic 2019


Little Word Kisses (“Beijos de palavrinha”)

Lisbon: Caminho 2008, 29 p.

Ill. by Danuta Wojciechowska

Brazil: Língua Geral 2006 China: Citic 2019


The Amazed Rain (“A chuva pasmada”)

Lisbon: Caminho 2004, 74 p.

Ill. by Danuta Wojciechowska

Argentina: Puerto de Palos 2017 China: Citic France: Chandeigne 2014


The Kitten and the Dark (“O gato e o escuro”)

Lisbon: Caminho 2001

Ill. by Danuta Wojciechowska

Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2008 China: Citic 2019 France: Chandeigne 2003


Mar me quer

Lisbon: Caminho 2000, 72 p.

Ill. by João Nasi Pereira

Cuba: Gente Nueva Mexico: Elefanta Sweden: Panta Rei 2019



Essays and articles:

O Universo num Grão de Areia

Lisbon: Caminho 2019, 272 p.

Italy: Sellerio Editore