… I devour the novel as if it was written by an established author, with several works behind her. I’m swept away, seduced, transported to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, to 1989 and a few years ahead, in a story about God, words and female oppression / … / a debut novel that feels so impressively confident, that isn’t anxiously searching for a unique tone. It is already there, glowing. It is a book written by an author who was born in Congo and raised in Tanzania before she arrived in Sweden as a ten year-old, and who appears so international. Kayo Mpoyi also manages to create an intimacy with the characters she is writing about, even though it occurs in a type of magic fairytale style and even though everything is perceived through Adi’s gaze. Kayo Mpoyi creates complex individuals, and I even start to see the cruel father in a more redemptive light.
The most remarkable thing about Kayo Mpoyi’s Mai Means Water is that it is her debut novel. I have difficulties recalling another debut written with the same fearless confidence, as if I was travelling with a driver who has had her license for fifty years. The novel’s many sub-plots are harmoniously interwoven; all the thoughts and emotions are completely authentic; the prose is like a flower frozen in spring water, and behind every line there is an alluring sense of danger.
With great proficiency Kayo Mpoyi uses her young narrator to illustrate the enormous political consequences. By focusing on Adi and the child’s sense of shame – how she always feels like she is being watched by God or her father – she creates an intimacy with the reader, something that usually goes to waste in epic stories /… / It is a mature debutant that emerges, she is in full command of the prose. Kayo Mpoyi never loses herself in elaborate attempts to explain the state of affairs /… / a timeless document over young people’s ability to reinvent themselves no matter what, also when they are drowning.
Mai Means Water is a remarkably strong and solid debut, written in a stylish and suggestive prose that is both impressive and convincing. The novel shifts between darkness and light, hidden secrets and the seemingly everyday trivial events. Intense, luminous, alluring and yet menacing. With a great amount of curiosity and anticipation I look forward to Kayo Mpoyi’s next novel and her future authorship. Because this is undoubtedly something as fascinating as the beginning of an authorship.
The narrator Adi is fascinating, she observes her family and accepts her father’s punishments with a fire inside her, but without principles. Adi is the eye that registers without judgment. It is a classic child’s perspective, accurate and consistent throughout. The danger with such very deftly written novels is that they become lacklustre. This is not the case with Mai Means Water / … / this is a novel that is full of surprises, I want to know what happened later, I want more. To sum it up, this is in some ways a very impressive debut.
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