Summary and book reviews of Woman of the Ashes by David Brookshaw

Woman of the Ashes

A Sands of the Emperor Novel

by David Brookshaw, Mia Couto

Woman of the Ashes by David Brookshaw, Mia Couto X
Woman of the Ashes by David Brookshaw, Mia Couto
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 9, 2019, 272 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The first in a trilogy about the last emperor of southern Mozambique by one of Africa's most important writers.

Southern Mozambique, 1894. Sergeant Germano de Melo is posted to the village of Nkokolani to oversee the Portuguese conquest of territory claimed by Ngungunyane, the last of the leaders of the state of Gaza, the second-largest empire led by an African. Ngungunyane has raised an army to resist colonial rule and with his warriors is slowly approaching the border village. Desperate for help, Germano enlists Imani, a fifteen-year-old girl, to act as his interpreter. She belongs to the VaChopi tribe, one of the few who dared side with the Portuguese. But while one of her brothers fights for the Crown of Portugal, the other has chosen the African emperor. Standing astride two kingdoms, Imani is drawn to Germano, just as he is drawn to her. But she knows that in a country haunted by violence, the only way out for a woman is to go unnoticed, as if made of shadows or ashes.

Alternating between the voices of Imani and Germano, Mia Couto's Woman of the Ashes combines vivid folkloric prose with extensive historical research to give a spellbinding and unsettling account of war-torn Mozambique at the end of the nineteenth century.

1

UNEARTHED STARS

Mother says: Life is made like string. We need to braid it until we can no longer distinguish its threads from our fingers.

Each morning, seven suns would rise over the plains of Inharrime. In those times, the firmament was much larger, and all the stars were contained within it, the living and the dead. Naked just as she had slept, our mother would leave the house, a sieve in her hand. She was going to choose the best of the suns. With her sieve, she would gather up the remaining six stars and bring them back to the village. She would bury them next to the anthill behind our house. That was our graveyard for heavenly creatures. One day, if we ever needed to, we would go and unearth stars. With such a bequest, we were not poor. That's what our mother, Chikazi Makwakwa, said. Or just mame, in our native language.

Whoever visited us would be aware of the other reason for this belief. It was in the anthill that we buried the placentas of newborn babies. A mafura tree ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If you are someone who needs a strong plot to enjoy a novel, this particular story may not be for you. However, if you are comfortable with a slow build, deep and intimate characterization and many conflicting viewpoints, Woman of the Ashes will deliver. While not without some faults, Couto creates an interesting snapshot of Mozambique under Portuguese rule. He paints the various cultural and social crises that this situation presents, placing them in a larger historical context. This is a slow, thoughtful read that will make you eager to learn more.   (Reviewed by Natalie Vaynberg).

Full Review Members Only (519 words).

Media Reviews

Paste Magazine
Woman of the Ashes weaves a stunning tale of a war-torn period.

Publishers Weekly
Excellent... while readers with some knowledge of Mozambican history will get the most out of the novel, this is still a fascinating, intricate story.

Library Journal
Alternating between Imani, whose voice is replete with long-held wisdom, and the letters of the bookish and poetic Sergeant de Melo to his commanding officer, Couto achieves a powerful narrative

Kirkus Reviews
A rich historical tale thick with allegory and imagery that recalls Marquez and Achebe.

Booklist
Starred Review. An intriguing combination of folklore, history, and magic realism, and the first in a trilogy, this is a novel to be read and reread, savored and analyzed.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Who Was Ngungunyane?

NgungunyaneOne of the most interesting characters in Mia Couto's Woman of the Ashes never formally makes an appearance – the emperor, Ngungunyane, the Lion of Gaza. Who is this powerful figure who ruled the Gaza empire (which encompassed southeastern Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique.) What led to his triumphs and, finally, to his downfall? What do we know about the empire that created him?

Ngungunyane was born into a family of power. His grandfather, Soshangane, was the founder of the Gaza empire. This founding was a direct result of Soshangane's defeat at the hands of Shaka Zulu in Zululand (modern day Zimbabwe); instead of joining the victorious party, he left his homeland to search for new land to call his own. Once his empire ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Woman of the Ashes, try these:

  • Kintu jacket

    Kintu

    by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

    Published 2017

    About this book

    First published in Kenya in 2014 to critical and popular acclaim, Kintu is a modern classic, a multilayered narrative that reimagines the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan.

  • Homegoing jacket

    Homegoing

    by Yaa Gyasi

    Published 2017

    About this book

    Winner of the 2016 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award

    A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape ...

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    by Marlon James
    If you are looking for an indulgent, escapist fantasy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf may not be for you. ...
  • Book Jacket: That Time I Loved You
    That Time I Loved You
    by Carianne Leung
    Carrianne Leung was a Toronto Book Award finalist for That Time I Loved You as well as for her debut...
  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Aeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Smiling Man
    The Smiling Man
    by Joseph Knox
    Joseph Knox's latest turns on a simple premise: an unidentified and unidentifiable murdered man is ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Year of the War
    by Susan Meissner

    A little-known story of WWII with great resonance for our times.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    American Princess
    by Stephanie Marie Thornton

    Rated 4.9 stars by BookBrowse members - one of the highest scores of all time!
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.