The Tuner of Silences (Couto)

Years ago, I saw a play at the Goodman Theatre called On the Open Road. It was a kind of apocalyptic journey story. The two characters were trying to make it to the proverbial Promised Land. On the way, they encounter a few remaining people, including Jesus Christ, who plays the cello. Couto’s novel reminded me of this. A father, with his two sons and a loyal soldier, has simply withdrawn to Jezoosalem which features a crucifix at the entry but where prayer has been forbidden. There are questions here – What happened to the mother? Who is this Uncle who visits regularly and what world does he inhabit? What is the war that is spoken of? What about the President? Perhaps if I knew more about Portugal and its relationship with Mozambique, I would have understood more, but I was okay with the questions. Couto’s Godot arrives and becomes the catalyst that proves Yeats’ words true once again – things do fall apart.

Couto’s writing is elegant. Credit should also go to the translator David Brookshaw. This is an evocative and sometimes magical world. There are, in my mind, a few missteps, Jezebel (though this death is vicious – not in a physical or gruesome way – it’s powerful retaliation – I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) and the naming of Silvestre’s craziness.

The poetry that Couto uses as chapter epigraphs is also worth careful attention.

Next stop, Sleepwalking Land (


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