When a young woman is subjected to a violent attack, the impact of colonialism, patriarchy, and who we choose to love are thrown into sharp relief. Daria is an immigrant woman living in Toronto, and as she begins to tell her story, the reader is pulled into different worlds, travelling to various timeframes and locations in an unending awe-inspiring Matryoshka play, where one story leads to another and another and another. The novel explores the stories of multiple characters—the Indo-Portuguese-Canadian sexual predator; the idealist and resilient Mozambican freedom fighter; the wondrous Iberian Roma circus; the Christianized Muslims and Jews; the mystical Nubian master who knows how to capture black matter; the fascist dictator whose ruthless cousin delivers unthinkable punishments inside the closed walls of Tarrafal, the infamous Cape Verdean prison of the Portuguese colonial regime—and countless other personalities, some wretched, some redeemable, some otherworldly, who defend visions and ideals and fight for dignity, power, and recognition.
Moving back and forth between Canada, Portugal, Mozambique, and Cape Verde, Daria is a magical realism historical novel where fact and fiction intermingle to create a spellbinding world of complex political, familial, and cultural dynamics.
“Brilliant and captivating, the novel Daria provides a look into the struggles and triumphs of being in a new land. Irene Marques’ writing moves extraordinarily between countries and she masterfully creates scenes of beauty and horror, happiness and sadness and, above all, hope and resilience. Books like this offer the world and invite us to experience other lives. This moving tale of dreams and healing will leave you yearning for the journey to continue long after the last word.”
—Sonia Saikaley, author of The Allspice Bath
The sun at Santiago Island. Ana Magalhães was picked up by the PIDE when she was blissfully sleeping in her apartment in Lourenço Marques. Francisco was away in the north of Mozambique doing some important revolutionary work with other FRELIMO members. When the secret state police came in the middle of night, Ana was taken by surprise, for she was immersed in the most beautiful dream. In this dream, she was in the middle of the city of Lourenço Marques, in the central avenue of this stunning pearl of light, the famous Avenida do Ultramar, standing on top of a military convoy with Francisco and many other comrades, men and women. The Avenida was full of people, black and white, poor and rich, young and old, mulatto, Indian, Indian Black, Chinese, Chinese Black, and many other tonalities that the world can engender. There were all kinds of people in the convoy where Ana stood and all kinds of people around it. The crowd filled that entire long avenue that went on for kilometres and kilometres, only to end at the bay by the Indian sea. They were all were chanting, dancing, and hugging one another. Some were even making love in open view, all naked, frantically thrusting into one another and going from one to another, as if they had forgotten the vows of monogamy that certain types of marriage can impose. It was as if they could not care less if they were doing it with a white person, a Black person, or all the others that fall in between. Perhaps they were followers of a truly democratic polygamy, a future trend that was to take over in Mozambique and other countries around the world, African and otherwise. Ana herself was not just offering herself to Francisco, as she had done up to
that point. She was opening her legs and her blouse to anyone who came to her to offer love and tenderness. And Francisco was doing the same and smiling and smiling, a smile of solace and contentment, the smile of a man who has so much love to give and receive that he cannot stop giving it and receiving it. People were also drinking and smoking ganza. Everyone was high, everyone was happy, and everyone was thanking the gods for this thing that had finally happened, this thing they had been nourishing for a very long time and for which they had suffered so much, for which they had lost many of their friends. This was a true festa, a festa dos vivos, a feast of the living, where everyone felt that finally the idea had manifested itself. At some point in the dream, Ana looked up. It was just at the moment when she had finished the most ferocious act of lovemaking with a man that she had never seen before, a man who made her go to heights that she did not rememberever having climbed with Francisco, even in the early days when their love was intense and fresh and their need for one another did not seem to ever appease itself. She looked up and saw the name of the street, and she realized that she was in the middle of Avenida da Liberdade and not in the middle of Avenida do Ultramar. At that moment of sudden awareness and cognition, she could not contain her happiness. She felt drunk to the core, inebriated with the sudden discovery that she no longer lived in a place that made her keep her mouth closed and forbade her from making love freely with the man of her choice. She felt sure that she had reached the place that she and Francisco, and all the others, had been trying to reach, that place where everyone could be paid equally for the fruits of their labour. They had reached a place where the light of the sun, the gentle lunar illumination, the soothing coolness of the weather, and all the other sensations that time and place allow us to have could be shared by the people of Mozambique. She felt so sure that she screamed from the top of her lungs so that everyone in that long avenue, which ended only at the bay by the Indian Ocean, everyone in that city, and everyone in that country could hear her. She screamed to everyone, shouting about her sudden discovery and pointing to the sign that now said Avenida da Liberdade. And as she did that, she also saw the magnificent administrative building across the avenue, and she became aware of the slogan in big letters hanging from it: This is Mozambique. She screamed again. She screamed louder than before, pointing at the street sign and the banner frantically, trying to inform the others of her sudden discovery. Everyone looked up, and everyone stopped what they were doing for a moment to stare at that blue neon sign. It was surrounded by a gentle dark light, as if it were dawn and the people were now waking up, waking up to stare at the beautiful dream that was no longer a dream but something very tangible they could grasp with their own hands, their own fingers, their saliva. There was a general silence, and everyone prayed with their hands held up high. Some even knelt on the floor and murmured words of gratitude to the forces that made it all happen. At that very moment of happiness, meditation, and beautiful realization, before all the people could really see the slogan hanging down from the building across the avenue, Ana was shaken violently by two rude and sturdy PIDE agents, one black and one white. And that was the beginning of a long and arduous nightmare, one that lasted for two years, two days, five hours, and seven minutes.
She was twenty-five years old then. She was a tall fierce woman with long black hair and legs so long that they seemed to be made to walk the world from corner to corner or to penetrate deeply into the jungles of Africa and compete resolutely with the tall trees, without getting lost or breaking. She loved Africa more than anything, and though she had not visited any other continent, she knew she was home and had no desire to leave that home. Her ancestors had been living in Mozambique since the early nineteenth century. They had come from a region in the northern interior of Portugal, the province of Trás-os-Montes, a land full of mountains and rocks and snow and poverty and granite, with little houses lost in the middle of that vast chain of mountains. The territory extends to the Spanish border, and many say that the most hardworking and fierce Portuguese people can be found there. She had never felt drawn to visit this land where her ancestors had come from, like many people do—people who are always looking for that which can never be found. She had no desire to travel the world and go from place to place to find happiness, to find wholeness. She was happy and whole where she was—or so she had thought before she had met Francisco. She first met him when she was twenty-one years old in a public gathering of FRELIMO members that had taken place in a recondite corner of Niassa, away from the vigilant eyes of the PIDE secret agents. When she saw Francisco, she could not resist his magnetism, the passion that shone in his eyes and the assurance that his thick sensual voice transmitted as he declaimed manifestos and poems about the destiny of man. He spoke about the right that everyone has to wake up in a land that they can call their own; a land that feeds all and allows people to speak their minds, their emotions, their souls; a land that allows men to make love with women in open air, without shame; a land that makes people want to wake up in the morning and walk slowly through the day that their feet can savour the feast of the early cooling dew, or the heat of the midday sun, or the mystery of the dark night. Francisco was twenty-nine years old when she saw him. That blessed day was a new beginning for her. Just like Daria, the beautiful Daria with the poetic soul, Ana also felt that Francisco was the man she had been looking for all along. He was the purpose for which she had been made a woman, the purpose of her entire existence. He was her love, her revolution, her land. He made her want, and want more. He made her feel at home. He made her want to lie under him so that he could teach her how to become a woman and how to wake her body into wholeness. There were many people at that event, people of all ages, ethnicities, and colours. There were men and women and even precocious children who already had in their souls the desire to feel freedom, even though they were children and ought to feel free all the time, ought to feel that fairy tales are not tales but pulsating truth illuminating their night. The next thing Ana was aware of was waking up somewhere pitch dark and very cold. Though she did not know at the time, she was on Santiago Island in Cape Verde, very far from the Indian Ocean, inside that swamp of slow death that was Tarrafal. They did not take her to Machava in Mozambique where most of the political prisoners of that distant Ultramarine Province were often kept. They chose to take her far away, to the other colony, on the Atlantic Ocean, so that she would be isolated, trapped on that lonely inaccessible island, cut off from any of her relations and thus impeded in continuing her cause. When she woke up in Tarrafal, in a cold, freezing, small room, she was naked and felt her body was bruised all over. She was hurting. She was hurting a lot. She did not recall how she got there. She did not know whether it was night or day because she was imprisoned in a small dark cement cell, completely sealed, in which no ray of light was visible.