About the book
Sold toFinland: Atena Kustannus, France: Marabout, Germany: CulturBooks, Norway: Solum/Bokvennen
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.
WINNER OF THE KATAPULT PRIZE 2020
a debut novel that feels so impressively confident, that isn’t anxiously searching for a unique tone
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 lightSvenska Dagbladet
This is a splendid novel
This is a splendid novel /… / Mpoyi evokes the setting with confidence and manages to capture the feeling of the child’s limited environment /… / Mai Means Water may be slightly reminiscent of Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay with Me, which also focused on society’s power over the female body, superstition and the conflict between tradition and modernity. But linguistically I rather come to think about Tove Jansson’s classic The Sculptor’s Daughter, where a domineering father from another century dictates a family’s mood and a storyteller with a rich inner life prepares to become an artistDagens Nyheter
It is a mature debutant that emerges, she is in full command of the prose
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 drowningHelsingborgs Dagblad
the prose is like a flower frozen in spring water, and behind every line there is an alluring sense of danger
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 dangerExpressen