Yara Nakahanda Monteiro’s debut novel Loose Ties (translated by Sandra Tamele) shows how colonialism still shapes many people’s lives in both Africa and Europe. The author was born in Angola, and today lives in Portugal, and these locations are also central to her novel.
The protagonist Vitória never knew her mother. She joined the independence struggle in Angola, while her parents – so-called assimilados who spoke Portuguese and had adopted the Catholicism – fled to Portugal with their granddaughter Vitória to escape the armed conflict. As an adult, Vitória, who is having an affair with a woman, feels compelled to get engaged to a man because of her conservative upbringing. But shortly before the wedding, she suddenly embarks on a journey to Angola to find her mother. The book takes readers into a chaotic, cosmopolitan Luanda with run-down houses, corruption, parties and various discussions about politics. Vitória finds helpers in her search, has to recite Brazilian poetry with a general, spend hours leafing through files in a women’s archive and watch a house with sleeping children in it burn down. It is a rich, moving story that does not shy away from complexity and painful scenes.
I enjoyed the vivid and lively language. The narrative style is characterised by hints, flashbacks, and brief soliloquies of minor secondary characters. This sense of fleetingness and the sometimes strange or surprising encounters portrayed serve to add nuance and feel appropriate to Vitória’s search, which often seems like futile groping in the dark. Vitória may be searching for her mother, but she is actually searching for herself even more. Loose Ties revolves around the question “Who am I?” that surely many people ask themselves in their lives, and in so doing, centres resistance to patriarchal and colonial structures.
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