the caramel rose

Elyeser Szturm, from the Heavens series


Commentary on Mia Couto's short story

Critic Álvaro Lins wrote that the yellow in photographs can disappear. It can turn black. Power turn red. It all depends on memory. This perception, so realistic, takes on more color when we read writers in whom reminiscence and fiction are confused. The reader (and even the author) does not clearly define the boundaries between what is lived, what is imagined and what is captured in conversations and experiences. In the literature there are no precise limits. There are paradoxes and possibilities.

In the contemporary expression of the Portuguese language, among us, stands out, in this logic, the Amazonian Miltom Hatoun. On the other side of the Atlantic, Mia Couto, who breaks the barriers of a particularism conceived in a language not spoken (and also not read) by most of the population with which the author lives. Although Portuguese is the official language, around 40 languages ​​are spoken in Mozambique, of Bantu origin, which the Constitution of that southeastern African country registers as national languages. It is intuited that it is a reduced publishing market.

Mia Couto was born in Beira (1955), in Mozambique. He is the son of Portuguese immigrants who went to try to make a living in Africa during the colonial period. A small family. Mia Couto was a member of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), living with the civil war that shook that country from 1976 to 1992. He did not take up arms. For white Mozambicans – as it turns out – the forces reserved other functions. It was the time of Samora Machel. The civil war marks the history of Mozambique in a very strong way. Trauma persists. The bitter reminiscence of the atrocities experienced is recurrent in the work of Mia Couto.

Also a biologist, Mia Couto works with environmental reports, as a consultant. One can see in his novels, short stories and poetry a reverberation of nature rarely seen in cosmopolitan writers. Mia Couto is from Mozambique, but he is a cosmopolitan author. He is one of the most important African writers today. It is translated and read in France, among other countries. His literature is different, intelligent, provocative. The short story “A Rosa Caramela”, which opens Every homem is a race (Companhia das Letras) is an unusual narrative with allusions to Mozambican life, which permeate the text, including the lexicon and syntax, fascinating for us Brazilians. There are expressions and constructions that remind us of the imagination of our authors, such as Guimarães Rosa.

In “A Rosa Caramela” the reader reaches a tension between dream and reality, between desire and possibility. This perception makes the short story a universal and timeless record, even if geographically fixed, although not dated. Mia Couto is universal insofar as she defines and explains her village. It follows Tolstoy's canon: it speaks from its place and thus describes all places.

“A Rosa Caramela” is the story of a woman (a humpbacked teal tells us the author) who fell in love with statues. It's a tale that also explores the theme of madness, and the many ways insanity acts as an antidote to frustration. The frustrated person acts crazy, reinvents reality, which he affirms and emphasizes as the only possible one. At the end of the narrative Mia Couto also explores the mental reserve, that is, that state of mind in which we do not reveal what we are, or what we feel. We dissemble. We mislead those we live with.

“Little was known about her”. With this opening sentence Mia Couto reveals that the central character is known only through facets, vignettes, fragments. Another character remembers that Rosa carried a “back on her back”; she was a female specimen of Quasimodo. Her birth name was not known. She had been renamed. Rosa Caramela was an invention of those who knew her. She existed in the eyes of others. But she was real, which doesn't necessarily warrant the narrative.

The narrator tells us that Rosa was the result of a mixture of races, in transit across all continents. Rose had no family. She lived in a hovel. She didn't know how she ate, or when she ate, or what she ate. She had a somehow pretty face, which could even arouse desires; that is, if excluded from the rest of the body, in the narrator's cool and honest description. Rosa Caramela spoke to statues, and that was her greatest illness. A hitherto unknown pathology. She loved statues. She wiped them with a filthy cloth. She begged the carved images to leave their inert forms. She wanted to be loved by those pieces of stone. A woman who fell in love with statues.

The theme of statues is not unheard of in fiction literature. In Tereza Batista tired of war Jorge Amado (who influenced Mia Couto) makes Castro Alves (who remained in statue) come down from the square and defend the prostitutes, then on strike. Dead for a hundred years, the poet rose, in the square that bore his name, assuming the tribune where he had cried out for the enslaved, in the São João Theater, whose fire he had consumed, to call on those women to say enough is enough.

Statues returned to the proscenium. They are destroyed, attacked, insofar as they are historically repudiated. We forget that each era has its history, each time has its narrative. History is less the past than the present whose questions it tries to answer. Each time poses its questions. It is the theme of the paradigm, as we read in Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996), an American physicist who was interested in the history and conditions of science. your work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Perspective) is a difficult book, which confronts us with a sophisticated concept of the normality of science.

From Rita Caramela's past, it was known that she had been left at the church, on her wedding day, by an absentee groom. The bridegroom made himself wait so long that he ended up not arriving, says the narrator. Shaken, insane, Rita was hospitalized. Once free, she became obsessed with statues. She caressed them. She warmed them up on cold nights. The narrator's father mocked the narrative, but recognized the difficulties that depressed Rosa Caramela. It was reported that she was arrested. The crime: she had venerated the statue of a colonialist explorer, which gave rise to a sentence that predicated on nostalgia for the past. An insurmountable historiographical problem, exacerbated in the anti-colonialist struggle.

A burial is reported. The narrator's uncle returns from the cemetery. Rosa Caramela was at the funeral and suddenly appears at the narrator's house. She is dressed in mourning. Uncle says she threw clothes in the grave. Rita challenges everyone, asking who could stop her from taking an interest in the dead man. The narrator's father is impatient. In this impatience may lie the interpretative key of the short story and its unusual conclusion.

Tension resolves unexpectedly. The reader somehow finds himself shocked and enchanted by the secret of a narrative that takes us beyond the comprehensive possibilities of reality. One has the impression that in “A Rosa Caramela” Mia Couto insinuates that there are explanations for everything, even if, most likely, the explanations go beyond our understanding.

* Arnaldo Sampaio de Moraes Godoy Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo (USP)



Mia Couto. “The Caramel Rose”. In: Every homem is a race. Sao Paulo: Company of Letters.


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