Neighbours narrates the deadly connection of different families in post colonial Mozambique, during the sabotage from the Apartheid regime of South African to the government of a recently independent Mozambique. As Lília Momplé wrote in the preface:
".......Neighbours was written out of my horror at the way countries can abuse each others sovereignty for their own ends and with impunity. Like many Mozambicans, I lived through decades when South African did as it pleased in Mozambique in order to protect the interests of the apartheid regime. During this period many Mozambicans were killed or had their lives destroyed. It is to them that I dedicate this book."
The story transpired in the eve of the festival of Eid (an annual Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan, involving the exchange of gifts and a festive meal), between 19.00 hours and 08.00 hours.
Naguiss immersed in her family problems (a young daughter who ignores men and wanted to study medicine, older daughters who wanted to get married but no husband, her own husband who barely sleeps at home) was busy preparing dinner for the feast while horror news was broadcasted on the radio as usual.
Leia, after an unsuccessful search of a more or less decent place to live with her family, excitedly accepted a flat a friend offered her without hesitation. In the novel we get to know a lot about her husband Januário, who has been through so much since his birth in a village lost among the forests which was plundered and put to the torch by RENAMO, a political group sponsored by the white minority governments of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa.
In the home of Dupont and Mena (husband and wife), Zalíu and Romualdo and the South Africans visitors were carrying out another plot to destabilize the Mozambicans governments and civilians. We get to discover a lot about the lives of this couples and the strangers in their house.
Dupont suffers from severe self-doubt and emotional insecurity which made him mistreats his wife any time he had the chance. His greed for money led him to become an accomplice of the South Africans. We get to discover why he behaves the way he does. Though, there is no way escaping the fact that the deep social and racial division in his country was as well to blame.
Zalíua was born into a poverty-stricken family, his father abandoned his mother when he was still a foetus. He joined the police and was later thrown out because of his continuous abuse of authority. His greedy thirst for revenge led him to take part in the plot.
Romualdo, from a disconcerting background, was recruited by the South African apartheid regime, brainwashed and trained as a professional terrorist. Hatred for his own race made him accomplice of the other two.
As the horrific event unfolds, and one situation led to another, the lives of Naguiss, Leia, Januário, Dupont, Mena, Zalíua and Romualdo were caught up in a vicious bloodshed.
I am always wary of reading translated novels, however, I must admit that this novel, perhaps novella, translated from Portuguese to English was a page-turner, insightful and an enlightening read, though a tragedy. Not only did the apartheid regime harm people in South Africa, it as well disrupted the lives of many innocent people in its neighbouring country. Needless to say, I highly recommend.
Finally, I noticed there is something weirdly fascinating and tempting about the book cover, kind of scary and attractive at the same time.
For more information about RENAMO, please click here.
For more information about FRELIMO, please click here.