The award jury recognized the exceptional quality of Mia Couto’s writing, which subtly combines orality and literary and epistolary narration, tales, fables, dreams and beliefs, within the historical reality of Mozambique, at the end of the 19th century, in the fight against Portuguese colonization.
The trilogy “The Sands of the Emperor”, composed by the novels “Women in Gray”, “The Sword and the Azagaia” and “The Drinker of Horizons”, focuses on the last days of the so-called State of Gaza, the second largest empire of Africa, at the end of the 19th century, directed by an African.
In the trilogy, Mia Couto takes up the known facts and real characters, which combines with fiction, focusing on the young Mozambican Imani Nsambe, educated by missionaries, who serves as an interpreter for the different factions in confrontation, linked by an impossible love for the Portuguese military German Melo.
The work is supported by the author’s investigation of extensive documentation existing in Mozambique and Portugal, as well as testimonies collected in Maputo and Inhambane.
The title, “The Sands of the Emperor”, refers to the legend, according to which, instead of the bones of Ngungunyane, were clumps of earth, sand, which returned to their country.
The trilogy, published by the French Me´tailie´, with the title “Les sables de l’empereur”, was published in Portugal by Caminho, between 2015 and 2017.
The Jan Michalski Literature Prize combines the value of 50,000 Swiss francs (45,687 euros) with “a work of art chosen and commissioned in honor” of the laureate.
Created by the Jan Michalski Foundation, to distinguish works of world literature, published in French, the award is given to Mia Couto, about a month after the publication of her new novel, “The Mapper of Absences”, which began as a tribute to the city of Beira, but it ended up becoming a trip to the author’s past and the “absences” that marked him forever, as he told the Lusa agency.
Translated into more than 30 languages, winner of the Camões Prize in 2013, Mia Couto was also distinguished with the Vergílio Ferreira Prize, in 1999, with the União Latina Prize for Roman Literatures, in 2007, and with the Eduardo Lourenço Prize, in 2011, throughout the career.
“Terra Sonâmbula” was voted one of the twelve best African books of the 20th century, and “Jesusalém” was among the 20 best fiction books most published in France, chosen by France Culture radio and Télérama magazine.
For the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature, in addition to Mia Couto, the French-British Philippe Sands were also finalists for the book “Retour à Lemberg” and the American Fran Ross for “Oreo”, published in Portugal by Antígona.
Sands has published in Portugal “Estrada Leste-Oeste – The Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity” (Members).
Mia Couto succeeds the Israeli author Zeruya Shalev, distinguished by the novel “La douleur”, published in Portugal by Elsinore.