Cape Verde

READ THE WORLD – Cape Verde: The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio

Translated by Jethro Soutar.

Serrano is an isolated village where a so-called madwoman roams. One day a young woman is found in the forest by Jerónimo and though the villagers are suspicious of this foreigner Jerónimo falls in love with her. When she gives birth and then disappears, Jerónimo raises and loves her daughter who he names Filipa. Years later the two are estranged and as Filipa becomes a business woman in the city, the village of Serrano is under threat by plans to build a dam. As villagers are forced to move, will Jerónimo and Filipa be able to reconnect?

The Madwoman of Serrano is a book that slowly grew on me and the last couple of chapters surprised me when there were some impactful moments there that I wasn’t expecting and actually made me realise how invested I was in some of these characters.

I think what I struggled to begin with with The Madwoman of Serrano was the narrative structure. It bounces between different characters points of view (not that confusing) and different time periods (what did throw me). To begin with there was no mention of Jerónimo and then when he does meet the mysterious woman, after that the time shifts from decades in the future where Filipa is an adult with her own teen daughter, to back when she’s five years old, to when she’s a teenager and back again. Tracking Filipa’s age is one of the only ways I could try and orientate myself. Especially once I realised what was happening because when it went from an adult-Filipa point of view chapter to a Jerónimo point of view I’d think they were in the same time period until there’s mentions of young-Filipa who appears to be mute, still living with Jerónimo in the village.

The village of Serrano are full of people who are not happy and seem to relish in the misfortune of others. They don’t like Filipa when she’s mute, the men of the village judge the women and the women can be mean towards anyone else they see as lesser than. The madwoman, a woman who is probably seen as mad as she’s independent and wise and perhaps a bit magical, lives at the edge of this society. She strikes up a friendship with young Filipa when no one but Jerónimo cares for her, which in turn does make Filipa more shunned as what sane child would spend time with a madwoman.

The Madwoman of Serrano does a good job of showing the toxicity of the small town (or in this case village) mentality, and how the patriarchy can harm the men as well as the women. Though the midwife of the village is the most important figure, men in the village see sex as their right and will beat any woman who refuses for whatever reason.

Some of the characters in the village are so horrible it’s a wonder that someone like Jerónimo manages to be so kind – though he’s not always kind, how he treats his wife is horrible but does feed into how the people of the village, the men especially, never talk about their emotions.

The Madwoman of Serrano is a strangely captivating book once I’d gotten my head around the time jumps. Slowly backstories are revealed and minor events mentioned in passing chapters before suddenly have meaning The Madwoman of Serrano is mostly a story about family, and the family you choose whether that’s friends or adoptive family. There’s also the idea of fate having a hand in characters lives, and there’s the odd unexplainable moment that can only be put down to magic.