For his first two books, Anthony De Sa followed that old adage “write what you know.”In his both his Giller-shortlisted 2008 collection of interlocking stories, Barnacle Love, and debut novel, 2013’s Kicking the Sky, the Toronto author wrote about Portuguese immigrants living in Canada. It drew heavily from his own experiences growing up in Toronto, raised by a father who was so fiercely proud of his new home that he forbid his children to speak Portuguese in the house. The family would gather around the TV set, but only to watch the CBC news, Hockey Night in Canada or the Tommy Hunter Show. Stories from Portugal, including those about the messy wars for independence in the 1960s and 1970s that erupted in colonies in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, rarely made it to the De Sa household, at least not through the Mother Corp.“As a child I began to second guess whether my parents were making it all up, because I didn’t see it on the news,” he says. “It wasn’t one of those things that registered with me as a child.”But when it came to writing his third book, Children of the Moon, De Sa shifted his focus from writing what he knew to writing about what he had always wanted to understand.The first glimmer of inspiration still came from within his own family, but it was a part of his history that he had very little understanding of. And it wasn’t from a lack of trying.Throughout his childhood, De Sa had the vague notion that uncles on his mother’s side had fought for the Portuguese in those colonial wars.At the age of 19, one uncle had been sent from his home in the Azores to fight in Guinea-Bissau for three years. When he returned, his family had already emigrated to Canada. By the time De Sa got to know the man, he showed hints of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that would reveal itself at night when his uncle would wake up in a sweat, unable to recognize his surroundings.De Sa only knew about this because he aunt would tell the family, but only when her husband wasn’t around. His uncle would never speak directly about the late-night attacks or the memories that caused them.“I’ve always been an inquisitive kind of person, particularly with my own family,” says De Sa. “I thought it was my job to record my family history. So I would pose questions and they would brush it off. I remember being 18 or 19 and asking my uncle about it. He just smiled at me and tried to ignore me. I posed the question again in a different way, hoping to lure him in and he made some flippant comment about how none of us would understand. When I asked him a third time, he just got up and left. That’s what they did. They just didn’t speak of it. A lot of it was what they saw. But I think a lot of it was what they did. I don’t know how to prove that. But it seemed weighty, as if there was much more there than what they could discuss.”To be clear, Children of the Moon is not based on his uncles’s experiences directly. The character of Ezequiel, a former child soldier from Portuguese-controlled Mozambique living with dementia, was inspired by one of his uncles but his backstory is fictional. The horrors he witnessed, endured and occasionally perpetrated during the civil war continue to haunt him as an old man in Toronto. We also meet Po, a Maasai woman with albinism who has endured ostracism her whole life due to her condition. She tells her story to a haunted Brazilian journalist named Serafim in modern-day Mozambique, where she is squatting in the now-dilapidated but once-luxurious Grande Hotel. Through the three narrators, we eventually travel back decades and learn how Ezequiel and Po’s stories intersect in the fog of a particularly brutal war.But with little information provided directly from his uncle, De Sa spent a good deal of time researching this novel, a process that has all the makings of a great memoir on its own. From 2014 to 2016, the author took a number of trips to Africa. First it was to Tanzania to conduct interviews with people with albinism organized by the charity Under the Same Sun. De Sa listened to countless horror stories related to the danger those with albinism are in due to superstitions in various regions of Africa.Later, he moved on to Mozambique and South Africa, at times inadvertently putting himself in potentially dangerous situations. Mozambique is currently experiencing a return to political strife and violence. Just prior to leaving the capital city of Maputo for a planned trip to Gorongosa National Park, for instance, De Sa received a warning from the Canadian Embassy.“Basically, they said ‘Don’t go into that area,’” he says. “I had read that they were beginning to call the road going into Gorongosa the Ghost Road. People had gone missing. I tried to call the embassy, it was actually the (Victoria Day Weekend) and I couldn’t get through to anybody. I just thought that I still have to do this because I came all this way.”Nevertheless, a planned trek up Mount Gorongosa — where much of the action of Children of the Moon takes place — was hastily cancelled because a militant group named RENAMO (Mozambican National Resistance) had taken control of the area. A mass grave had been discovered, which had brought in hordes of media. De Sa was put on a convoy and sent to the coastal city of Beira.This wasn’t the only mishap. De Sa later travelled to South Africa, where a number of Mozambicans of Portuguese descent fled during the civil war after the Frelimo Party took control in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the right paperwork when he attempted to return to Mozambique to catch a connecting flight home. He was promptly arrested and detained at the airport.“They handcuffed me and escorted me through the airport with semi-automatic guns,” he says. “That’s when it really sinks it. They took my passport. I didn’t know what was going to happen. They put me in a holding cell in the airport until, thank God, my plane left. They took me again through the airport with handcuffs and boarded me onto the plane. Only then did they remove the handcuffs. It was stunning in a way and I realized that you were dealing with a world that is very different than the one you’ve grown up safely in.”While that amounted to a scary but relatively minor inconvenience, De Sa admits that other parts of his research trips to Africa were harder to shake after he returned home. Hearing horror stories from people with albinism or from those who lost everything in the civil war had a lingering effect on the author.“I can share with you — I didn’t think I was going to share this with you — but six months after my return from Mozambique, I was not OK,” he says. “I had to go speak to someone about it. I had to rethink what I had bought into in terms of my life and my family and it was a difficult journey. There were a lot of questions that I had but I’m glad I came through it. I have a lot more respect of people who are living through it daily. The fear is still real to so many of the people living there.”Children of the Moon is now in stores. Anthony De Sa will appear at Wordfest in Calgary, which runs from Oct 16 to 23 at various venues.