Lead Review (The Drinker of Horizons)

  • Book: The Drinker of Horizons
  • Location: Mozambique
  • Author: Mia Couto

Review Author: Tina Hartas



The Drinker of Horizons is the third in the Sands of the Emperor trilogy.

The Sands of the Emperor trilogy depicts the brutality and complexity of colonial Africa during a time of enormous upheaval and change. The Drinker of Horizons picks up the narrative as the protagonists are due to set sail for Lisbon. Ngungunyane, the King of the African Kingdom Gaza has been captured and is to be transported, along with his wives, to face imprisonment and then exile in The Azores. The story is narrated by fifteen-year-old Imani, a Portuguese-speaking local girl pregnant to white Portuguese sergeant Germano. This narration is supported by letters, mostly from Germano to Imani. Imani is to travel with the king to act as translator. Germano remains behind.

The story brims with the animism of African believing curtesy of Dabondi, one of the king’s wives. Dabondi interprets all of the happenings through this lens, making predictions and warnings and issuing curses, while Imani finds herself caught between both worlds and not knowing what to believe. All she wants is to reunite with Germano, marry and live happily ever after. Ngungunyane also interprets the events occurring around him from his own unique perspective as king. It is in large part a perspective that insulates him from the truth that surrounds him. Although, his assumption that he is equal in standing and power to the king of Portugal is at once almost comical and a painful judgment regarding the assumed superiority of Western cultures. The ship’s captain has a troubled conscience, his sergeant displays a casual brutality, the cast of characters each offering up an interpretation of the world around them. The clash of cultures is stark.

Couto has captured these various perspectives beautifully and masterfully. It’s impossible to criticise the storytelling. The author clearly has a deep and intimate understanding of the history of Mozambique. He conjures a powerful sense of place. And when the king finally arrives in Lisbon and the novel and the trilogy come to an end, the full and brutal reality of Western colonial domination is stark.

Despite being the third in the trilogy, it is possible to read The Drinker of Horizons without having read the other two books, but I wouldn’t recommend it. This is a series that would appeal to historical fiction fans and anyone eager to broaden their horizons.

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