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Under the Frangipani

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  910 ratings  ·  82 reviews
A police inspector is investigating a strange murder, a case in which all the suspects are eager to claim responsibility for the act.

Set in a former Portuguese fort which stored slaves and ivory, Under the Frangipani combines fable and allegory, dreams and myths with an earthy humour. The dead meet the living, language is invented, reality is constantly changing.

In a story
Paperback, 160 pages
Published July 3rd 2008 by Serpent's Tail (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-novels
A good dose of magic realism African style, set in post colonial Mozambique. A police inspector is sent to investigate a murder at a remote fort used as a hospital/refuge. Whilst he is there he is also inhabited by the shade/ghost of a worker buried under the frangipani tree in the fort (unknown to him). The residents of the fort are a group of older people waiting for death, their nurse, an elderly witch/wise woman and the wife of the deceased (who ran the fort). They all readily confess to the ...more
Sep 14, 2011 rated it liked it
And now for something completely different...a magical mystery tour with one of Mozambique's leading novelists, Mia Couto. It is daft, but I shall attempt to outline briefly the plot of this phantasmagorical tale that makes the most ardent proponents of magical realism seem like champions of formal nineteenth-century European literary naturalism in comparison.

Most simplistically, one can view this novel as a "whodunit." A European-educated African police detective, Izdine Naita, arrives from
Kyriakos Sorokkou


TITLE: Under the Frangipani (Portuguese Title: A Veranda do Frangipani)

AUTHOR: Mia Couto

COUNTRY: Mozambique


This was my first novel from Mozambique or from a Sub-Saharan African country in general. It was actually a 150 pages novella filled with magical realism or to be more precise animist realism, an African sub-category of magical realism.

From Wikipedia: Animism is the worldview that non-human entitiessuch as animals, plants, and inanimate objectspossess a
This... I... You know what? I just didn't quite get it. I don't know if it was the translation, or the magic realism which I do honestly have a hot/cold relationship with. But I didn't really get the point, or half the book.

We start with our protagonist who is buried under a Frangipani tree. But he is about to get honoured by the state as a hero against the colonialists, so decides he has to leave this old fort he died at while building, in order to get some sense of self back. Luckily (?) there
Oct 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story about the pain and lost identity of a nation, about its dreams, superstitions and hopes, all narrated in a surreal note.
Zoe Brooks
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: magic-realism
Why is it that you go for ages without a magic realist detective story and then two come along within a month? But Under the Frangipani is very different from Burning Angel. Couto plays with the detective story genre in this book, stretching it and distorting it. For starters the inspector has people queuing up to admit to murdering the oppressive Excellency Vatsome, but then many of the confessions include magic - such as a woman who turns to water at night and a man who will die if he cries - ...more
Mar 09, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, 2015
Magical realism murder mystery/storytelling that straddles the worlds between the living & the dead, traditions vs. modern mores, colonization against freedom, & war facing off against peace. It was different & even a bit challenging to understand, at least for me. I do think there's real depth there, but I'm not completely sure that I even made it far below the surface. A better knowledge of traditional myths & tales, as well as the history of the area might have helped some of ...more
Mar 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, fiction
It's short but I still found it a challenge to get through. Probably read it too disjointedly and it would have flown a bit better. I did enjoy Couto's lyrical language but I feel like there was a lot of symbolism that I missed and thus it ended up being a rather shallow read for me.
Marcia Letaw
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finally, a book that is truly different from previous experiences, a book that is unusual without being impossible to read, a new friend to begin a new year.
Karlo Mikhail
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Mia Coutos Under the Frangipani is a thin book. But condensed in its little more than 150 pages is an impressive narrative of a revolution betrayed as centered on the investigation of the death of Excellency Vatsome, Mozambique revolutionary war veteran turned sanatorium director and secret arms dealer.

Lurking everywhere in Under the Frangipani are the shadows of the Mozambique war of national liberation against Portuguese repression and its traumatic realities.

A genuine revolution is supposed
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: mozambican
The strength of this book is the author's nearly inexplicable ability to imagine what it might be like to be dead, if that were to mean resting comfortably, and somewhat sadly, underground. Nominally the book is written by a dead man; by itself that wouldn't be remarkable ('The Third Policeman' comes immediately to mind), but here the narrator is content. He tells us all sorts of things that aren't grisly, melodramatic, or macabre: he doesn't dream, but the frangipani tree above him sometimes ...more
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable novel. It is very African in sensibility, style, substance and mood, but the story resonates on a deep universal level. It is a 'Magic Realist' detective story. As such perhaps it should be reminiscent of the works of Márquez, Carpentier and Rulfo, but to me it bears a stronger resemblance to the novels of Milorad Pavić in the extraordinary use of strange metaphors and similes, and its forging of highly original connections between objects, situations and ideas.

Izidine Naita is the
Jul 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With a simple, but a strong and grave voice (which reminds me of Ismail Kadare), Mia Couto recreates in Under the Frangipani the history of his country, Mozambique: with its traditions, beauty and complexity, with its struggles across the centuries of occupation and years of weird freedom. Not only the whole story, but every sentence of this original micro-novel is a fable. The big truths, in all their deepness, are said within an amazing simple way that only can come from the wisdom of the ...more
This was very strange. It's set up as a mystery, which is, I think, eventually explained, but all of that is simply an excuse for a series of inset narratives in which the elderly inhabitants of the asile confess to the crime, possibly to protect the detective, possibly to protect themselves and hide from him, and possibly to have the opportunity to tell their stories to someone who will listen. Behind each of their confessions is the history of Mozambique, though very little of it is made ...more
Sep 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been looking forward to reading some Couto, without really knowing what to expect. He did not disappoint.

A pretty fascinating book and style. There's a theme of the modern world forgetting and losing its important lessons from the past - history and tradition. Yet, it is written like nothing else. A police inspector is inhabited by the spirit of a man long dead and visits a home for the aged and mystical - with some help from an astral armadillo.

This was his reply: can a snake move back
Acordul Fin
The setting of this book was the one that picked my interest. Getting to know post-colonial Mozambique through its legends and traditions was a worthwhile endeavor. Having as narrator a spirit that can inhabit people is also a great device. However, I'm not convinced this was the best translation and I can't say I felt at all an emotional connection. And I'm sure I missed a lot of the symbolism by not having a lot of knowledge about this part of the world.
This was my first Mia Couto book. And I don't think I understood it much. But the writing was beautiful. Now for due diligence--i will be searching out some criticism and some Mozambican history/cultural information to see if I can gain a better understanding of this short book.
Nov 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hic-sunt-leones
For me, literally speaking, Africa is one of the continents with the most white spots. I mean I have read the fewest writers from Africa, compared with other continents. Thus, when I found out about Mia Cuoto (via the Neustadt prize), and I have found that one of his novels is translated into Romanian, I jumped on it.

So I know very little about it at the moment I started this novel, except the blurp from the cover. The editor said something about a false detective story with a lot of influences
Peter A
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, literature
When I travel, I like to read books about or written by authors from the location I am visiting. For those of you who have been to Porto, and know about Livaria Lello (the Harry Potter book store), you know you have to purchase a ticket to get in, but if you purchase the right type, you can use the purchase price against a purchase.

When looking for books in English by Portuguese writers I found this one by Mia Couto. It turns out he is not really from Portugal, but from Mozambique, but he wrote
Rob Kitchin
Under the Frangipani is a curious book. Set in an old Portuguese fort in post-independence Mozambique the tale is part murder investigation, part allegory that is rooted in magical realism. The fort is the locus of the long troubled history of Mozambique, a site that held slaves, was used in the war for independence, and is a microcosm of post-independence society. Its inhabitants reflect the melting pot of different identities - blacks, mulattos and whites and classes, and the challenge of ...more
Thurston Hunger
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Happy to come across another Couto book in English. This time it's a murder, but rather than a whodunnit, it's more like a who-didn't! Motives are ripe and fall to the ground where they seep into a corpse that comes back alive to help conduct the confusing interrogations.

Spirits and anteaters commingle, as do ancient myths and modern bureaucratic bungling. Dark continent, black humor and light prose made for an almost too quick, but definitely enjoyable read.

The device of a chapter for each
Jun 28, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, fiction
Too bad that I didnt like it. Ill just copy paste: coming back from the dead, the narrator turns into a night spirit and inhabits the head of a Mozambican police inspector who is investigating a surreal murder. But could the true victim be traditional African beliefs and a way of life ravaged first by Portuguese colonialism, then by civil war, and finally by Western materialism. Using both fable and allegory, Mia Couto creates a mysterious and surreal epic that brilliantly captures the spirit of ...more
Feb 18, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this and I so badly wanted to be sucked into the world of the story, but I just wasn't. The use of language was truly beautiful and enticing and, as a lot of people say about the book, very unlike anything else out there--very much doing justice to the nature of oral storytelling. I guess I sort of felt like translating oral storytelling into a novel turned out (for me) sort of like flattening a globe into a map--some things were distorted and it was hard to tell whether the things I ...more
In all honesty, even though there were parts of this that I really adored - most specifically the passages in the first and last chapters, I feel as though I missed something. Maybe its me, and maybe I just didn't get it, but it ended up being just ok for me. My enjoyment hovered between a 2 and a 3. I can recognize however, that this is good writing and a unique writing style and for that I bumped it up to a 3.
I may give this one another go sometime in the future and see if I get more out of
May 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Couto does deliver a deep insight into post-colonial Africa, utilising unique turns-of-phrase and mystical/traditional thinking, but perhaps I am a bit too removed from this world to fully appreciate it. I feel I could have had a better introduction to Couto, but English translations seem to be limited. I did thoroughly enjoy the structure of the tale and the fact it is (view spoiler)
Bob Lopez
Another dreamlike exploration of a life and death and afterlife in post-war Mozambique. Featuring alternating narrators with alternating reliabilities, the novel weaves together magic, war, race, myth, and murder into what is ostensibly a detective story. Also, why are only 6 or 7 of his books translated into English? There are at least 6 novels that remain untranslated, and 5 short story collections...c'mon!
Apr 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that I'm sure would have been wonderful if I had understood it. I'm not sure if it was the translation, the folklore, or the magical realism, but I just didn't get it. I expected it to be plot-driven, seeing as it is a whodunit, but it was largely made up of symbolism and oppositions. It just wasn't for me.
Ariane Iradukunda
High on Frangipani.
Michael Pennington
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
I couldnt understand the narrative ...more
Stefania Lazar
A weird book. I like magic realism, but this had way too little realism and too much strangeness (not even magic). I did enjoy it, but I can't say I really understood what was going on.
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Journalist and a biologist, his works in Portuguese have been published in more than 22 countries and have been widely translated. Couto was born António Emílio Leite Couto.
He won the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 2013 Camões Prize for Literature, one of the most prestigious international awards honoring the work of Portuguese language writers (created in 1989

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