Omslagsbild: Mai betyder vatten

Date of release: 2019-01-09
Pages: 256
Sold to: Finland: Atena Kustannus, France: Marabout, Germany: CulturBooks
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Mai betyder vatten /Mai Means Water

This is a coming-of-age story set in Tanzania during the 1980s and the 1990s. Adi is born as seventh child to Kabongo and Amba Mukendi, a Zairean diplomat and his wife. The oldest children remain in Zaire, while Adi, her older sister Dina and their sickly little sister Mai live with their parents in Dar-es-Salaam. Every evening their father feeds them with words and punishes them for the slightest misbehaviour.

All families have their own myths and in Adi's case the ancient African tales of the ancestral curses are intermixed with the strict Christian God. The children are taught that the female body is something so unclean that it continuously must be chastened, and that given names hold so much power that they can fend off unrested spirits.

Adi is the young narrator who sees the world through a child's eyes. God is everywhere – sometimes in the shape of an ordinary boy with glasses and a notebook – and so is sex and the Devil.

Mai Means Water is a modern Bildungsroman, a story of how a girl is made. A tale of abuse that repeats itself in every generation. This is the story of Adi and her family, their curses and fates – from the cruelty of the Belgian colonists to the present day, as the siblings scatter around the world to escape the dark legacy.


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… 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.
Svenska Dagbladet
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.
Helsingborgs Dagblad
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.
Norrtelje Tidning

Kayo Mpoyi's (b. 1986) first novel, Mai Means Water, was published in 2019 and was awarded the Katapult Prize for Best Debut 2020. Mpoyi studies at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, and is a frequent contributor to Dagens Nyheter and Swedish Radio, as well as a member of the authors' panel on the literary talk show Babel. 

Mpoyi has also published an illustrated children's book, Kitoko (2022).

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