Neighbours: The Story Of A Murder By Lília Momplé
A Literary Review

United States of America by Jase Comments View Comments

Neighbours: The Story Of A Murder is a novel of tragedy and triumph concerning the history and destabilisation of Mozambique, which teaches us that other cultures and countries can offer a lesson in humanity, perseverance, and the perils of greed, while reaffirming the idea that we can become neighbours through compassion and storytelling.

Neighbours: The Story Of A Murder By Lilia MompleNeighbours: The Story Of A Murder by Lília Momplé focuses on the destabilisation of Mozambique through short narratives detailing the lives and motivations of seven central characters. Part of the Penguin African Writers series, Neighbours tells the political story of a nation, that is often forgotten by the West, in a thoughtful and provocative manner.

The novel begins in the home of Narguiss, on the eve of Eid (it is unclear which festival of Eid the author refers to and what year, but we know the story occurs in May). Narguiss and her daughters are preparing food all night long for the celebration of the holiday but Narguiss is distracted by ruminations concerning her daughters' marriage prospects (or lack thereof) and her feelings towards her adulterous husband Abdul, who is uncharacteristically absent on the evening of Eid.

The next characters introduced are Leia and Januário, a young couple that has fatefully moved into a modest and comfortable flat, which took several years of bureaucratic rigmarole to acquire, and very nearly cost Leia her innocence. Throughout the novel the story is told of how the two lovers met and the heartbreaking tale of Januário's move from his village to the city, and the murder of his family and destruction of his village.

Finally, the novel moves to the home of Mena and Dupont, which is where the story develops its conflict and intrigue, and where we (and Mena) learn that Dupont is planning a murder, the goal of which is to destabilise the government of Mozambique. Obviously, Mena is concerned about the developing secrecy of her husband Dupont's affairs, and is busy making dinner for Dupont and two conspirators named Zalíua and Romu, as well as the pending arrival of two South Africans. We come to learn that Dupont has been hired by Romu to join him in a network of South African agents who carry out acts of terrorism, sabotage, and murder for very good pay. It is in this section that we learn the motivations of Dupont, Zalíua, and Romu are, respectively, monetary greed, a thirst for revenge, and intense racism. Unfortunately, we learn that Mena only has her suspicions of what the three men and the two South Africans will do on this fateful night, and that she is powerless to stop them.

By just reading the previous plot summarisations the story may seem somewhat flat and uninteresting, but the story is more than what appears on the surface level. Momplé effectively uses an organisational style that very nearly rivals Dickens, but is most comparable to the style of Isabel Allende because of her extensive use of character history to delineate motivations and emotions, but also because of her focus on a country's quest for independence and the injustice brought upon a country by another. Beyond this, Neighbours is ripe with extensive symbolism. It is my belief that Narguiss represents the customs and stoicism, and old-world charm of the people of Mozambique before Portuguese colonisation. Her adultering husband Abdul represents the gender inequality so prevalent in Mozambique, but also serves as a symbol of how some Mozambicans betrayed their nationality to pursue the riches, greed, and violence supported by neighbouring South Africa. Leia and Januário symbolise the hope and prosperity of Mozambique and are the most likeable because of their character history and their triumph over barriers. Meanwhile, Mena and Dupont's struggles as a couple are indicative of Mozambique's struggles between colonialism and independence, while Romu and Zalíua epitomise the struggles of identity, masculinity, and national pride, and the individual conflicts that arise during times of violent upheaval and change. Naturally, these are my own suppositions, and I encourage others to read the novel and come to their own conclusions (and post comments below).

While one might therefore assume that I adore this novel, I do have some complaints. The novel is written and executed well but this execution is marred by numerous typographical errors. These errors are so extreme that several character names are misspelled repeatedly, and never in the same way. Other words and phrases are unnecessarily duplicated and, in one egregious example, the actual font of the text differs from one page to the next with no apparent or logical reason. These numerous errors are unfortunate because they distract the reader from the beauty and power of MomplĂ©'s storytelling. In addition, the glossary, while only two pages, is largely useless, as most of the terms (bagia, gilebe, and matapa, for example) are related to food, and their meaning is easily inferred from the context. Even those terms that are not immediately discernible from context are easy-to-identify cognates of other languages (assimilados and mestiço, for example). While these entries do not add much to the storyline, they do enrich the connection to the culture, especially in the case of Narguiss' storyline. I firmly believe that a map of Mozambique would be far more useful to the reader, as it would be nice to know the approximate locations of the villages and cities mentioned to really appreciate the scope of how all-encompassing Momplé's tale is to the whole of Mozambique (in both geography and history).

To me, Mozambique was a far-flung country that I knew very little about but Neighbours: The Story Of A Murder taught me a great deal about culture, independence, and the struggles of its people, and I can easily say that Mozambique is not a country I will refer to as "often forgotten" ever again.

The review copy of Neighbours: The Story Of A Murder by Lília Momplé was provided by Penguin Books (South Africa). It is available from leading book stores and online retailers, including,,, and

Posted: 27 January 2010 in: Books > Reviews OpinionShare/Bookmark
Rating: 7/10

Key Facts: (Review Copy)
Title: Neighbours: The Story Of A Murder
Author: Lília Momplé (translated from the Portuguese by Richard Bartlett and Isaura de Oliveira)
ISBN/EAN: 9780143026211
Edition: Second
Year: 2009 (1 August 2009)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 130
Dimensions: 129x197x12mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: drama, fiction, murder

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