The Word Tree, by Teolinda Gersão
Reviewed by Sarah Gilmartin
The Word Tree
Set in colonial Mozambique, Teolinda Gersão’s bildungsroman follows Gita, a young girl forced to pit her love of country and family against her mother’s bitter prejudices. Portuguese immigrant Amélia’s resentments pervade the novel, providing a compelling antagonist to Gita. This personal narrative of control, and subsequent neglect, has wider significance. Mozambique is a country on the cusp of war, eager to gain independence. Home truths are told through memorable imagery, such as the quizumba, the hyena whose body splits because it wants to travel every path. First published in 2010, The Word Tree was reissued earlier this year after Margaret Jull Costa’s translation won the Calouste Gulbenkian Prize. Gersão’s assured hand is evident throughout this convincing story of division. Mother and daughter, black and white, old and new worlds – the narrative perspective shifts effortlessly, returning each time to a fundamental question: why should anyone think they are worth more than anyone else?