<b>Amid the palms and rusty cannons of an 18th-century Portuguese fort in Mozambique, Mia Couto and his protégé Julián Fuks are in lively conversation despite sweltering heat. The red battlements of the sandstone fortress on
Maputo Bay are overlooked by the capital’s high-rises. Couto points to the equestrian statue of a colonial general and bronze reliefs depicting the capture of the Mozambican emperor Ngungunyane in 1895 to illuminate the history
behind the trilogy of novels he is writing.</b>
He shows Fuks the carved tomb of the vanquished leader who died in exile. The symbolic remains were repatriated some 80 years later. Yet the man now hailed as a resistance hero was himself a Zulu invader. “The Portuguese claim of glorious
military victory was a fiction because Ngungunyane’s empire was already dying,” Couto explains. “When independent Mozambique was looking for heroes, they built a fiction erasing that he was a tyrant. Two big official lies about
the same man. What interests me is how history is built from lies and how it pushes out other stories.”
When they first met a year ago in Maputo, where Couto lives, the Mozambican writer found Fuks “shy, introverted, serious – not the ‘typical’ Brazilian extrovert. We shared the same political and social worries about the world. Julián
felt a prisoner of his own style. He wanted to cross a borderline, to open doors and have an adventure.” The younger author hoped to emulate Couto’s poetry-in-prose, and the way larger history shapes his characters. Fuks, whose
fiction draws heavily on family history, wanted to “go further in inventing stories and characters, and not be so attached to reality”.
Mozambique gained independence only in 1975, while Brazil cut colonial ties in the early 19th century. “We’ve both been colonized by the same country,” Couto says, “so we have an urgent need to introduce ruptures between us and them
inside the same language – Portuguese.”
That common tongue makes this mentorship groundbreaking – the first writers in Portuguese paired through the Rolex Arts Initiative. They write in a language overshadowed by the ascendancy of English. Fuks notes a “perversity in this
system: if you’re a Brazilian writer never published in English or French, it’s unlikely you’ll be translated in Argentina. It feels like you need to go through the English language, and European eyes, to be read by your neighbours.”
Yet for Couto, “It’s probably good to be considered distant; to keep something distinct about ourselves that’s not globalized.”
That neither is from Europe doubles their sense of writing from the periphery – in places with little direct contact. As Fuks observes, “We’re in ex-colonies that see Portugal as the decadent centre you went through to go anywhere.”
The mentorship year has broken those barriers, enabling them to meet around the Lusophone world: in the Azores, São Paulo in South America, and southern Africa, settings for their fiction-in-progress.
Couto has written more than 30 books, translated into 20 languages, ranging from <em>Terra Sonâmbula</em> (<em>Sleepwalking Land</em>, 1992), one of Africa’s most important 20th-century novels, about the trauma
of Mozambique’s 1977–1992 civil war, to <em>A Confissão da Leoa</em> (<em>Confession of the Lioness</em>, 2012).