King Lazarus by Mongo Beti

King Lazarus

King Lazarus by Mongo Beti

Cameroon fiction

Translator – Peter Green

Source personnel copy

As I said yesterday I was shocked when in Alain Mabanckou in his book ,Black Bazaar, they were discussing early French language fiction from Africa and Mongo Beti was mentioned ,it served to remind me I hadn’t reviewed this book that I had read last year .So too  Mongo Beti ,was out spoken as a kid about religion and colonialism in africa .He was expelled from his missionary school but did manage to get to university in France where he studied literature , first at Aix-en-Provence he then went to the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris ,before returning to Cameroon ,where he wrote journalism ,including a scathing piece on the writer Camara Laye for what he saw as a book pandering to western tastes ,not African tastes.He then choose to write novels himself ,writing a number of books a number of which appeared in the ealry collection of the African writer series  .He did end up spending a lot of his life in exile .

The same day the reverend father mustered all his determination and will-power and sought audience with the chief .What took place no-one discovered .Directly Le Guen left ,the chief summoned his brother ,telling him to send away all the palace wives .

“Except the one and only wife to whom I shall be married in the eyes of god ”

“And which one might that be ? ” Mekenda enquired cautiously .

The Chief makes his choices .

After reading up on Mongo Beti his motivation for writing this book became clear ,this book is a vision of how he saw Cameroon ,missionaries and tribal life in his homeland .The book centres on The chief of the Essazam ,who has decide to embrace the catholic faith .Now this is where the problems start for him ,because he has a number of wives 23 in all .The church has been pushing him to choose just one of the women so he choose the youngest of his wives to be his only bride in the eyes of god .Now this isn’t the simplest thing for him to do because the other 22 wives don’t want to lose the position or lose face within the tribe ,thus setting up a trick situation .On top of this the chief is being pushed into this by Le Guen the priest ,as Le Guen in turn is facing pressure from his bishop to make the chief convert as they see him converting as a powerful figure for the church in the country .

At the time of the events this story describe ,the girl was barely fifteen .An impetuous ,passionate  creature, la bell ,Medzo ,her opulent Bosom the more striking for the bird-fine  adolescent body .Already the most attractive women in the place .

WHat happens to Medzo ?

Well as you see this is very much tribal world and way of life clashing with the incoming Christian religion  .The title is a spin on the old tale because instead of everything turning to gold as the priest and his bishop hopes ,it in fact has the opposite effect for the Chief .Given that Beti was critical of Laye ,you can see that this book which he wrote after that is very much a book that appeals to Africans in the post colonial world at the time it was written 1958 France and both the UK were starting to withdraw from Africa ,in fact Cameroon became independent just two years after this book was published .Satire is the way Beti choose to show the world of the chief and the priest ,to show the madness of the two worlds clashing the Christian world and it values and the Tribal world .The Pressure on Le Guen to make him decide to become a Catholic ,without seeing the bigger picture .Beti has written here a sharply observed  book capturing a shifting world in time that world of older values and western messing with these values .This book seems out of print which is a shame but old African writer copies seem easily available online .This book shows yet again how in the early years of this series the Late Chinua Achebe ,who sadly passed away last week ,made some great choices for this series by picking strong voices out of Africa.

Have you read any books from Cameroon ?

Black Bazaar by Alain Mabanckou

Black-Bazaar_large

Black Bazaar by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Translator -Sarah Ardizzone

Source – Library

So after a few days away from the blog I return with another of this years Independent foreign fiction prize Long-listed books and this time it is From the Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou .This is the third book from him I have reviewed on Winstonsdad ,I have previously covered Broken Glass and Memories of a porcupine .Now the big change in this book than the two previous books which have both been set in Congo is that this book is set in the Paris ,but more the Paris of the African immigrant a very different one than the one we know and also the story of one Man and the people he knows .

Because he keeps going on about the Hippocratic oath ,we’ve ended up nicknaming him Mr Hippocratic .Seeing as he can’t insult the whole earth, he takes it out on me instead .Mr Hippocratic likes to cultivate his garden at my expense .He says ,for example ,that most blacks he knows ,I always put the cart before the horse ,I’m not worth Peanuts ,I’m a cabbage head ,with an artichoke for a heart

The racist neighbour of the Buttologist .

The main character in this book is a Congolese man from the capital of Congo ,the same as Alain Mabanckou ,but our man character is a colourful chap who has earned the name Buttologist ,he is one of these chaps that has a swagger about him a modern-day Dandy .He is one of a group of guys that have a certain air around them .This is almost a keen to the English gang novels of Richard Allen who charts the life of Joe a skinhead that then becomes a young man in his other books .This is the story of a man coping with the world around him .The title is a reference to a diary that the Buttologist keeps .He is a man in mourning not for someone who has died, but for his women the women called Original Colour by Buttologist and his friends she earned the name because of the deep colour of her skin ,well she has taken of with his son, who with a midget ,she has gone back to the Congo and left the Buttologist .We see how Buttologist copes with this loss but also through what his friends say a large picture of being African in Paris .But also how being African has been shaped in them the books the read ,the music they like ,how they perceive life .

I buy books from the rideau Rouge .And what do I remember from what I’ve read ?

A dazzling truth: it’s thanks to colonisation that Cameroonian Ferdinand Onyono wrote The old man and the medal and Houseboy ; it’s thanks to Colonisation another Cameroonian ,Mongo Beti wrote cruel Town and The poor christ of Bomba .

I read this and Smiled I have read Mongo Beti’s king Lazurus last year but never got to review it yet so will be tomorrow .

I love Mabanckou ,this is my third read from him ,every time I go wow .He is a writer that seems the same yet different in every book ,if that makes sense he has grown as a writer of the books but also has kept what I loived the first time I read him in the heart of the book and that is the interaction of everyday people .Buttologist is a guy you often see around ,not always from Congo the sharper dressed African is some one I ve meet via work and like Buttologist what on the outside the maybe brash dandy looking chap isn’t what they are all about .The other thing I love in Mabanckou writing is a dry and dark wit subtle and shows the clashing of African culture and French culture but also ,the clashing of different african nations as one passage about living in a house with a few Nigerian women and how they argue made me laugh .I see why this was picked for the IFFP longlist ,Sarah Ardizzone has done a great job on keep what appears from talking to Tony who has read it in the original French a vibrant book alive .

Have you read Alain ,which is your favourite by him ?

It’s my birthday and chaos of a decorating

20130318-194027.jpg

It’s my birthday I be been lucky to have a cake made by the lovely Amanda for my birthday .Had busy day sorting house as we’ve a decorator in tomorrow which means I ll be off line probably most of this week as he is doing three rooms and we’ll need to sort them out after they’ve been done in the evenings .I’ll have a chance to sort my bookcases out and sort them out .No bookish treats yet but Easter Saturday we are spending the day I. Derby we’ve lived in Derbyshire for long time my self for 19 years and Amanda for 7 and neither of us have been to Derby shopping so it’ll be a nice day out .Catch up with you all at weekend

Gerbrand Bakker interview

The Detour mmp 9780099563679

I ‘m pleased to bring you an interview with the Independent foreign fiction prize longlistee Gerbrand Bakker .His longlisted book The detour (ten white geese in the Us) Has Just come out in paperback in the UK ,So when I was offered chance to ask him a few questions I jumped at the chance
1.Why do you goes such isolated locations for your books?
I like to put people away from distractions, big cities, hustle and bustle. Just to see what happens to them. And in a very strange way I’m – even though I live in Amsterdam – not really able to write about a city and all the things that happen in them. Just like I’m not really able to write about skating, and skating (speed skating) is what I’ve done for 15 years, including competition. It always looks strange, reads strange.
2.Have you a connection with Wales, and is that why you choose it for The Detour?
Because I’ve been there quite a number of times. In fact, I have the strange habit of wanting to climb Snowdon once a year. The land there feels old, ancient, mysterious. I always wanted to use it for ‘something’ and somewhere in 2009 Emily Dickinson, a woman (and a feeling) and North-Wales came together in my head.
3.Did you pick Emily Dickson first as the poet to be the one Emile taught or after as she fitted the character?
No, the book started with this poem, that’s why I choose it as the motto. So the woman (Emilie/Agnes) had to fit in with Dickinson, and not the other way round. And then, when I was writing, I discovered (and the woman discovers) that there are some similarities between her and Dickinson. So there is a sort of love-hate relationship between them.
4.How closely did you work with the translator on this book?
Quite close, closer than on any other book. Because there were some real problems in the translation. For instance: how do you translate a book that in Dutch deals with the translation of an American poem into Dutch? I thought the book couldn’t be translated, but David Colmer is very calm and he said: “Don’t worry, I’m the translator, let me do my job.”
5.What impact did winning the IMPAC prize for The Twin have for you?
I bought a house in The Eifel, Germany. I’m renovating it at the moment and there is going to be a wonderful ‘writing-room’ in it, which can only be accessed via a stairway on the outside of the house. There is going to be a log burner in it, as the whole house is heated with log burners. That is what happened in the end with the IMPAC money. I did (not yet) buy a carthorse with it. It also gave me the opportunity to NOT write for a while. I’ve not been inclined to write for a couple of years now, and the money partly enables me to do this. The IMPAC did not make me think: wow, I’m a real, big writer now, also because I myself have been in jury’s and I know how things work. There is always a bit of luck and bargaining involved…

Bakker, Gerbrand c. Eimer Wieldraaijer (1)
6.I Asked Cees Nooteboom about Dutch literature last year he described it as ‘inward looking’. What is your view?
I presume that he meant this not as a compliment, and that he is not an inward-looking writer? I don’t think one can make such a general statement. There are enough writers who to me don’t write inward-looking, like Anon Grunberg or Peter Buwalda. But it is maybe true that Dutch writers take it on them to write about for instance world politics, maybe because in the end we are a very small country. And not many Dutch writers have the stature of Orhan Pamuk. I cannot think of one Dutch writer who ever became ‘big’ in the UK or the United States. There is also a reverence for especially English and American writers here. If you look at the bestselling books at the end of a year, there’s hardly a Dutch book to be found in the top 10. I don’t think that’s the case in the US or the UK. And nobody can convince me that American or English books are intrinsically better than Dutch books.
7.What you currently working on?
Nothing. I’m working in my house and garden, and sometimes I write articles in magazines. I travel a lot for my work these days. To Germany, but also to Argentina, the US and South-Africa.
8.What is your favourite Dutch book not written by you?
Het Bureau (The Office), written by J.J. Voskuil. A book that consists of seven parts, 5000 pages in total, about a man who works in an office for 35 years and is struggling with that. Only recently the first book was translated into German, it has not been translated into English. That would be a mammoth-task for any translator…

Many thanks Gerbrand and good luck with the IFFP 2013

Here are my reviews of his two novels

The twin

The detour

Happy days when blogging works

I ve often moaned about my places in the blogging world  .But I was just thinking I m in a purple patch of blogging feeling on top of things and my lot in the world  .I feel as thou my interaction in the blogosphere is at its best  level since I started blogging over three years ago .Its much  easy to write a post letting steam off ,as  I am now struggling to write a positive post about my joy in blogging  .I think what I m trying to say is that after a number of years struggling to wonder where my voice and blog belonged in the grand scheme of things .I have decide maybe it belongs where I am at moment . A fair bit of content and taking part in great projects like Man Asian with Matt Lisa and Mark or my own shadow iffp with Gary Mark Lisa and Tony . Then another part is joining in thing like Lizzie and Caroline German Lit month ,Tony’s January in Japan.I think I wanted to be Fonz when I started blogging but I never was the cool kid at anything ,so I m happy being a Richie I want feel part of a family and I finally feel that I am part of the blogosphere .Anpother joy is the people I ve meet over last few years people like Mark ,Simon ,Rob my fellow bloggers ,Nikesh and the book trust folk ,Meike ,Maddy ,Henry ,Fiona and Beth from the world of publishing and of course Frank one of my favourite translators .All in All for a lad from  Chesterfield that start this as a project to do something in my own small way ,I feel I have .

So thanks to all that have stuck with me in lkast few years and here is to many more

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