The Radiance of the king by Camara Laye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye

Guinea Fiction

Original title – Le Regard du roi

Translator – James Kirkup

Source – personal copy

I said with the post the other day I had felt the variety of place I had blogged from had narrowed in recent years from the early years when I would have a number more African title in the mix. So I have had this on my shelf for a few years I like to keep a few titles from places I haven’t read from in reserve for the day I really struggle to find somewhere new. Camara Laye was born into a family caste that was traditionally Blacksmiths and Goldsmiths. He studied Mechanics and became an engineer via his studies. He like many Guinean males of the time was circumcised this form the story of his debut novel the African child. This was his second novel and unlike the debut is an allegorical novel.

“What right?” asked the beggar, as if the word had startled him.

“Wasn’t that mor or less what you told me? Wasn’t that  what you were hinting at, at least ?

Clarence was now speaking with great bitterness

“I spoke only of “Favour” “said the beggar “You are quite wrong to think I said anything about “rights” of any kind. As far as I’m concerned, I have nevered claimed any kind of “rights” I have always resticted myself to soliciting favours.I’ll say no more than that I expect these favours tobe granted.

They have just meet and the Beggar is a strange man .

This novel tell the strange tales of Clarence he is a penniless white man who has got stuck in an unnamed African country with no money and no one apart from the locals to help him.We see over the three parts of the book as Clarence tries to get to see the King get him to help to get home. A job with the king would help him get home. He has lost everything to a game shortly after he arrives. He has been helped initially by a beggar. This beggar is a strange character as he says he has a way for Clarence to get to the King. They do at one point see the King but then learn he has headed south for a while. Then we meet another strange pair a couple of Naoga and Noaga whom with the beggar set of to a village in the south. They get drunk on the arrival in the Village and the beggar has a strange look at Clarence then leaves the village on a donkey !! THen Clarence ends up in a cycle of drinking and getting stuck into village life feeling a lazy way of life coming over him and the king coming seeming more distant as he tries to get the answer to when the king is coming! while he escapes returning home? Will he meet the King?

They were made aware if its proximity by an odur which ought to be described, not merely because Clarence was especially sensitive to smells, and very curiously affected by them, but also, and above all, because this odur was particularly representative of the whole character of the south

The odour was a subtle combination of flower perfumes and the exhalations of vegetable moulds, It was certainly a strange and even suspect fragrance, not disagreeable, or not overwhelmingly so, but strange, and suspect, a little like the turbid odour of a hot-house full of decay blooms

The fragrence as they head south has a almost mad=gic realist description about it !

This is an unusual novel as it has a white man turning African and not an African becoming western. Clarence gets drawn into village life. He is also a man that has to face challenges this is like the temptations of the flesh and mind. From the off were he loses his money, then the temptations of the women of becoming lazy all challenge him in meeting the King as he sees others around him trying like the blacksmith does in the village to make the perfect axe for the King. Clarence also is like a Kafka character, the book starts with the Kafka quote and there is a sense to a similar dream world in Clarences being stuck in the village in the middle part of the book. This is another early work of Franco African literature coming out in 1954 for the first time. I hope to try African child at some point by Laye. My copy was a Fontana modern from the early seventies with as you see a rather old-fashioned cover

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Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane

Senegalese fiction

Original title – L’Aventure ambiguë

Translator – Katherine Woods

Source – personal copy

I enjoyed the early years of the blog when I didn’t get sent as many books as I do know as it meant I had search books from the library or what I found in these early post on the blog one of the areas I  covered more than I do now is  African literature. I have long been a fan of the African writer series and still have a number on the shelf unread. So as I am trying to cheer myself up I looked back on what this blog means and discovered I have been missing those chance finds and books that set me apart in the past. So this by one of the most widely regarded early postcolonial African writers this book won the Grand Prix d’ literature d’ Afrique Noire a prize for the best French-language work from Syb Saharan Africa this was the second ever winner in 1962.

“The peace of God be upon this house. the poor disciple is in quest of his daily pittance.”

The sentences, plaintively spoken in a quavering voice by Samba Diallo, were repeated by his three companions. The four youths, shivering in their thin rags of clothing under the blast of the fresh morning wind, stood at the door of the Diallobe chief’s spacious dwelling.

“Men of god, reflect upon your approaching death. Awake, oh awake! Azreal, andel of death, is already breaking the earth for you. Itis about to rise up at your feet. Men of god, death is not that sly creature it is believed to be, which comes when it is not expected, and conceals itself so well that when it has come there is no longer anyone there.”

The boy enters his fathers hut a mixture of Islam and tribal words early on in the book.

I said yesterday I loved books that feature culture clashes and this is one such book. It is set in those early post-colonial years when places like Senegal were finding their feet but still some of the locals looked to France as the center of their world. This is the story of one Boys journey to manhood in those years. Sambo Diallo the boy and the main character of this take is the next in line to be Chief of his people the Diallobes. We see him as he is being taught by his teacher in a hut by the fire the Koran off by heart. This teaches him what the text means to him and also in the wider sense of the tribe. His father did the same as a child and is all for this being his only education. But his Aunt The grand royal his father sisters think the boy will be better for spending time in France. In the end, the boy is sent to Paris and studies Philosophy among other things. He loses his homeland and his strict Islamic identity but also is never treat as French and is always viewed as that African when in the company of others. He struggles to find his place in his two worlds together.

Like Paul Lacroi, he did not express this thought aloud. He said, instead:

“I believe that you understand very well what I want to say to you. I do not contest the auality of the truth which science discloses. But it is a partial truth; and insofar as there will be a future, all truth will be partial. Truth takes its place at the end of history. But \I see that we are setting out on the deceptive road of metaphysics”

Samba much changed in tone after some time in France when he speaks but also a sense of no trust in the world he is in here.

This is a classic tale of a boy journey to manhood it has classic eye-opening scenes like when he sees the bigger world when he arrives in France. But he also struggles to fit in the struggle of who he is now he has seen the wider world leaves him questioning the world he grew up in.  This is one of the reasons I started the blog to discover about the past and present around the world those grinding of our western world . up with the traditional world tribal lives that were still evident in the 60’s. I was pleased to see the other month that the ebook catalog of the African writer series had been brought for academic use it seems I tried to find the piece but haven’t. It is nice see people get the chance to look back at some of these works ok times have changed but these books are as important as English and American novels people regard highly from the same time. This is a great insight into traditional Islamic culture in Senegal and that clashing with arriving in sixties Paris.

So the path does not die by Pede Hollist

So the path does not die by Pede Hollist

Sierra Leone fiction

Source – review copy

One of the things I promised myself this year I would try and read a few more titles from around Africa, I have been buying and have been sent over the last few years. Pede Hollist is now based in the US as a professor of English at Tampa University. He is originally from Sierra Leone and has been shortlisted in the past for Caine prize and he has been included in a number of collections of Sierra Leone stories. His work focus on African Migration.

The shouts, wails, and curses heaped on her, her father , and her family ascend into the air.Finaba had heard them in the leaves and had seen them arrayed in the moonlight sky when she and Amadu emerged from the forest; and now, as she lay on the bare metal table of a disinfectant-laden examination roomin the chiefdom health clinic, they echoed in her head.

Just after the attempted FGM , she is already nearly an outcast because of it ina was called Finaba then.

This is an age-old story of the Journey from Africa to the US. We follow Fina a young woman, as we follow her life from her home in a village, where we see her just about to have an FGM, when she is taken away by her family and isn’t given the procedure, because of this she is stunned by the other people within her village. So they decide to move to the capital of Freetown Were she settles, but with the curse and past still in her mind.She soldiers on and manages to go to university and this enables another path to the US and a hope of a new life. She arrives and is successful but struggles to fit in again as she finds the world she lives in divide into Afro Americans, people from the Caribbean and then her group of people from Africa. She then begins to want to return home.She hs a finance but life is still strained for her.

For another few minutes neither spoke.Then, in a softer, less accusatory tone, Fina began again.”After college, I wamted so badly to get out of Sierra Leone to come and live here, where it wouldn’t ,atter what ethnic group i belonged to, whether I was a foster child, or that I was a woman”

She paused .Edna saind nothing

“Boy did I get that wrong! O just replaced the circles on my back tith ones that say Black, Afrcian and Foreign- no alien . Black and alen. Is this what life is all baout? running away from place to place trying to fit in, to belong

Fina struggles as her american dream crumbles as it is still about groups!!

This is an interesting insight into the story of being a fish out of the water all your life. from not having the brutal FGM procedure in her village that leads to being pushed out. To grow up in the capital with questions as to why they are there!  Then arriving and seeing the dark side of the American dream the way people divide themselves into where they are from still. Then we have the questions around FGM and how it is still acceptable in some villages and girls that opt not to have this awful procedure can be pushed out of their home and their own community and we see how this one act has a lasting effect on Fina and her life where she is a square peg trying to squeeze into the round hole. This has a feel of writers like Chinua Ahcibe especially the first part in the village has a similar feel to his writing. The cover for this hardback is very tactical.

 

 

African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal

African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal

Eritrean fiction

Original title –  تيتانيكات أفريقية

Translator – Charis Bredin

Source – personnel copy

I have reviewed a few books from the small publisher Darf over the last few years. I picked up this recently as it was a book from a country I haven’t read from, but also a story that appeals as it is  the tale of many people trying to seek a new life in Europe. Abu Bakr Khaal followed the route described in the book and himself spent many years in Libya and the in a refugee camp in Tunisia.Before living in Denmark.

I do wonder how many nicknames. I’ll bear throughout my life. In Khartoum I was known as Awacs(The Airbourne warning and Control System) because I’d refuse to go to bed at night til I’d garnered evryy last useful scrap of information from the world of immigrant smuggling, by land, sea and air. From mt lodgings in Khartoum I kept track of the number of Titanics that left North Africa’s shores bound for Europe evry Summer.I was always informed of the most recent departures and whether or not the boats had reached dry land.

The Gamble they all take using these make shift crafts to reach their dreams in Africa.

This book mix the present with the past as we follow one young man’s journey from his home in Eritretooo Libyia and then Europe. Abdrar has been hearing tales of life in Europe and we get to follow his journey from his home first to Sudan Khartoum after he is arrested at home .In Khartoum, there are many smugglers there to  take people on  their journey north through the mainland of Africa.  We see how they charge people different amounts for here they come from. All the time there is a thread of folk tales and previous migrants stories underlying the tale. Till they arrive in Libya and take what they call those African Titanics, those makeshift and often overcrowd former fishing boats and other put together ships that the refugees sail on. The latter part of the book is like a collective tale of these people a fellow traveller Malouk who you may sense might even be a ghost tells tales and then is lost at sea, but then is seen again in the Med by other people on one of the African Titanics!

To all the pounding hearts

In feverish boats

I will cut

Through these paths

with my own liberated heart

And tell my soul

To shout of your silenced deaths

And fill

Palms of dust with morning dew

And song

I Choose the end lines as they are so powerful a song sung by the ghost Malouk on the Med.

This is a short but hard-hitting Novella that is the voice of many those lost and the trail to Europe that Abdar and many others through the years have followed to Libya to Tunisia and then frequently to drown in the Med. The style of this story reminded me of the early books by Ben Okri that mix so well African folktales, Magic realism and realism into a story that like the smoke of the refugee’s fires at night drifts in the air and becomes a collective voice for the many. It also highlights the horrors faced and the Exploitation of those seeking a new and better life away from their horrors of their homelands. May I also point out that Darf is running a fundraiser for the second part of The Confines of \shadow by Alessandro Spina I reviewed the first part a couple of years ago.

This is a review of a fiction novel and no person in the text is based on a real character or organisation.

 

 

The ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila

The Ultimate Tragedy

 

The ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila

Guinea Bissau fiction

Original title –  A Última Tragédia

Translator – Jethro Soutar

Source – Personal copy

Well I decide to add Portuguese lit to the Spanish lit month I had a look at what was out there and this is one of the first books to catch my eye as it is the first book from Guinea Bissau to be translated into English. Abdulai Sila studied electrical engineering and worked for cisco and other companies in the US before he returned to Guinea Bissau, where he set up Sila Technologies to bring affordable tech to his homeland. He has written three novels this is his second book and the first to be translated into English.

Ndani had prepared for the journey meticulously. Nobody in Biombo knew anythingabout it, nobody other than her friendly stepmother. It was her stepmother who’d taught her ghe phrase she was now repeating, and one of two others besides. Her stepmother had een made Ndani memorise certain rules of behaviour, things white masters demanded of black house helps: particular ways to respond; gestures that showed b=obedience and submission

The young girl needs to learn how to be in the big city for the white folk !!

This is maybe a classic African tale it is the story of one woman’s journey and also shows a time when Africans in the former Portuguese colonies were starting to question the place in the world. Ndani is sent from her rural village to work for a Portuguese family in the capital Bissau. The first thing that happens is the woman of the house starts to try and get her to believe in the church as her children have flown the nest and her husband has his eyes elsewhere she is trying to baptise the young girl, but as Dona Deolinda is doing this. The master of the house has other ideas for the young maid she tries to esca[e him but in doing so is shown the door . Where on she meets the village cheif  Regulo, but he is uneducated but the young girl is settled he has tried to improve his village much to the opposition of the administrator, by building a school and his huge house to try and show the locals are moving up in the world. Ndani also meets the teacher from the school a man she connects with but what will happen.

“Thou shalt not covet”, one of gods comandments . She was Regulo’s wife , the teacher could harbour no ambition to have her. God’s laws were sacred, they had to be upheld. Violating them would be a sin. A good christian and a teacher besides,must not sin. At least not in such a flagrant fashion. This is something he taught his students every day ,how could he ignore it himself ? nor could he ignore the fact that the Regulo had been good to him

The teacher after first meeting Ndani is torn between religion and Lust in a way .

As I said a classic tale of a young woman leaving her home, now she has been told by the local juju man that she is the carrier of a bad spirit and in a a lot of ways her journey is a long one and through her eyes we see the awakening of the locals in the Village chief and the way he wants his village to improve. As I say this is a universal story It reminds me of one of my favourite stories Stones in a landslide which also followed a young girls journey from a village. There are other stories from Africa like the Zimbabwean novel Nervous conditions which show a young girl growing up in the background of that country breaking from colonial rule. May I also say this is one of the most eye catching covers of the year.

Eve out of her ruins by Ananda Devi

First published by Les Fugitives and CB editions in September 2016 ISBN 9780993009341 / 120x180 / paperback with flaps / 160 p / RRP: GBP10.99 Order here. With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country's endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve's best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clelio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France. Eve Out of Her Ruins is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society, and a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in Devi's native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.

Eve out of her ruins by Ananda Devi

Mauritian fiction

Original title –  Ève de ses décombres

Translator  – Jeffrey Zuckerman

Source – personnel copy

When the american list for the best translated book came out on the three percent website this year I decide to order a few of the books from this years list , this was one of those books and since I read my last book from Mauritius the last brother  , I had been wanting to read another Ananda Devi won her first prize when she was fifteen she studied at SOAS in London and had her first works published in the late 1970’s and this was her seventh novel and won the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie.

He dragged me off a corner of the playground , behind a huge  Indian almond tree , he pinned me against the tree’s trunk , and he slipped his hand under my t-shirt. I was wearing a red t-shirt, with a soccer player’s name on it . I don’t remember who anymore . His hand stopped at my breasts , slowly moved up and down, just over the small black points. There hardly anything there. I heard other children shouting and playing .They seemed far away.

Eve first encounter distant like her mind and body split that day !

This is a coming of age book about four teens on the cusp of adulthood in the capital city of Mauritius Port louis , we have Eve the main character in this four voice narrative , she is a young girl that has being using her body to get attention of the boys around her and allowing them to abuse her ad in a way her body is damaged but her mind is still there . Then we have Saad as his chapters are called he shes what is happening to Eve , but wants more ,he loves Eve and has like many men his age discovered Poetry for him it is that of the young Rimbaud as he heard him read in Class  . But also is in the gang they still chase women the same . Another Gang member is the other male character in the book Clelio  he is awaiting family return from France and hopes to follow himself at some point to escape the gang and the world of Port Louis  . Eve also gets abuse at home from her father in fact the last voice in this book is her only Solace a fellow female student she seeks companionship and connection with . There is also a very sinister fifth voice weaving the book with a sinister tale.

You think about her again , as you saw her last . It’s because of him that she had this purplish tinge, this rigidity, this absolute stillness. It’s because of him that she contradicts everything she ever was ; a girl who was laughing thoughtful , warm and alive above all , alive . He was her final moment . It was this face = pasty defeated, unaware of the very meaning of the word love – that she saw at the moment she died.

You will not forgive him

THe fifth detached and chilling voice in this novel with its last words who was she !!

This is a story of growing up in the wild part of a city , I was reminded of the German novel tigermilk where the lead female character like Eve start to use their bodies for sex and a sort of instant gratification but also the hollow feeling that Eve has in her life. There is also a sense of pace Zuckerman has caught in the translation this remind  me of another book from its us publisher Deep Vellum . Tram 83 which also feature characters in what like Port louis is a town on the edge of Chaos , where like Cleio most youngsters are looking to escape to France. The uk publisher of this book is Les fugitives a new publisher putting out new female voices in french . A tough book about kids growing up in a harsh world .

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Black Moses

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Original title – Petit Pimen

Translator – Helen Stevenson

Source – review copy

As I limp on trying to get through the man booker list , well that said I am reading the last book on the list and just have my reviews to write-up . Today i catch up with the latest from one of the most featured writers on the Blog Alain Mabanckou  widely regard as one of the best African writers of his generation called Africa Samuel Beckett . this is also the third book he has had on the short and longlist for this and the old independent foreign fiction prize. So to  Black Moses

Back on the platform again , still with hid escort of wardens , Dieudonne Nguoulmoumako launched into grand-orator mode, explaining how we were the builders and protectors of the scientific socialist revolution. On his jacket , just above “where his heart beat” as some people put it, gleamed a badge with three letters on : CWP . You had to get up really close tp read , in small writing under the letters : Congolese Workers Party

The Orphanage under communism and their leader

This follows one boys coming of age story in the Congo of the 1970’s , like many other places in africa at that time the country had swung to the left and fallen in with Communism , like many regimes of the time this was just an excuse for a man called Ngoulmouako and his henchmen to try to run the orphanage where our Hero Mose lives and what follows here is a modern twist on the orphan made good story that made so many great books from Charles dickens , it’s not Oliver twist  or pip no Moses has it hard but he is in the town of Point-Noire the colourful town that has been at the centre of most of Mabanckou fiction Moses gets help from Maman fiat 500 whom he tells her he is called little pepper , part of his robin hood fantasy (I love this name classic Mabanckou) the mistress of the local whore , who finds him a job as a docker and tries to help him out he spends time with her  and the girls.he gets in many scraps with his group of friends as they hang out with Mamans Zairian girls  Then the world start to turn dark Maman disappears the girls are forced out as there is a drive for girls just from Congo as they are driven out we see the dark side of the regime .

Anyway, what’s your name ?

“Little Pepper …”

She looked surprised :

“What kind of a name is that ? You must have a real name , like everyone else?!

When i didn’t react she sighed “Never mind, we’ll call you that ! My name is Maman fiat 500!

She took out a ten thousand CAF franc note and held it out to me .

Here , Little Pepper , that’s for you, buy yourself a shirt and a pair of horts ,what you’re wearing looks like you live in a cave , for good sake !”

Moses and Maman meet for the first time

 

This feels like a writer loving his homeland , after his last book which saw Alain return for the first time in many years to his home town of Point Noire , which is the setting for the novel , I feel this maybe is part of a story he heard on his retutrn that he has woven into a tale of growing up in the town on a different path to his own Moses is a take of the orphan story rather more like artful dodger with his gang of friends and then there is Maman story , her story is almost like the Harlots Progress  as her girls follow the path and rise and then fall like in Hogarth’s etchings  as with Mose is maybe like tom in the rakes progress series of etchings , even to the end where we see mose is in a cell in a prison for the criminally insane . He has revived the classic orphan tale in a Congo under the yoke of communism where the bad take control .

Land of my fathers by Vamba Sherif

Land of my fathers by Vamba Sherif

Liberian fiction

Original title – Het land van de vaders

Translated – by the writer himself from his dutch book

Source – review copy

I always get a tingle when a new country is put on the list of countries  I have read books from, not so much in a planespotter way of ticking of places for me it is discovering new voices and placing them in the context of where the writer is from and their history Vamba Sherif is the best known writer from Liberia , he studied in kuwait and then traveled to Syria whilst the first Gulf war was happening. Finally settling in Netherlands where he studied Law .He published this his first book in 1999.He as since written a number of books .

One morning , on a wet autumn, i caught sight of the ship in the distance and hurried towards it. The salty sea aire bore excited voices towards me, and it was not long before I became part of the bustle,Shouldering my luggage consitsting of clothes, some valuable books and expedition materials.I climbed on board.The ship was crowded with men and women.There were no children

I was reminded of the lines of a pogues song here “on a coffin ship I came here”

This is one of those stories you are thankful there is publishers out there finding writers like Vamba Sherif . This story is  a tale of a reverse journey at a time when people well slaves in a way were going from Africa to the Americas. Later on in this time some freed slaves went back and claimed a part of Africa. Liberia (land of the free ) is the oldest republic in Africa. This is the tale of one freed slave he got free after falling for Charlotte another freed slave whom he fell for  his wife fulfilling a promise after being freed of return home to Liberia . Edward Richard a freed slave and preacher is returning with his wife to Liberia, not knowing the full picture in a way and he is shocked when he arrives and her that many of the tribes aren’t friendly on the ex-slaves returning home and even worse than that have no god in their life. He and Charlotte settle in the town but over time he is compelled to preacher to the tribes and discovers a wonderful man on the way there in the later part we follow the descendents of these two men that met in the wilds of Africa.

The townspeopkle came to bid us farewell, a large crowd which spread across the road like ants. It was a solemn affair.The wind whistled a mournful rune as though it were sweeping across a deserted place.Turning to look at the town, I wondered whether i would ever see its mountains and its many paths again , its treesunder which elders rested at midday.At the main junction where the road forked into four paths that formed the main thoroughfares, i saw the blind Tellewoyan being led by a relative.

Is Richard blind in his journey heading into the tribal lands to preach to the locals /

This is a journey many freed slaves made in the day but like many dream journeys it isn’t as it seems like many of my forebears in Ireland that made the journey from Ireland to the land of free only to find themselves in an underclass Richards journey is one that initially they look forward to till they discover the locals have many religions and many gods. A modern tale in a way of a journey to a place of safety that isn’t safety Vamba wrote this story himself about his homeland in a refugee camp trying to discover about his homeland. We all need place and that is what is seen here through the eyes of the people richard Halay the native he meets show the need for place but also the place religion plays in Peoples lives. I for one learnt more about Vamba homeland like many males of my generation we knew this as the home of the George Weah that mercurial player of PSG and Milan back in the day . So if you want to discover a bit about the early days of this country this is the novel to read .

 

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila

Tram 83 FINAL FC

I featured this in my cover shot post a couple of weeks ago of Tram 83  and said then I had this on my wish list since the US publisher Deep Vellum had brought this book out in the US> I was contact by Jazz the publicist for the uk publisher Jacaranda books a great new UK publisher doing a great selection of African books. Anyway what first caught my eye about this book was the quote this is a masterpiece by Alain Mabanckou, usually I don’t take much notice of quotes on cover but Alain Mabanckou has long been a favourite of  this blogger.

I was fortunate enough to read some of Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s poetry a few years back. I didn’t know at the time he was busy writing a novel, or for that matter the degree to which I would be moved by his new work and how each page would bring me so much joy. When I turned the last page I exclaimed: “This is a mastepiece”

From the forward by Alain Mabanckou

Tram 83 is maybe to me the book that seems to be what must be the chaos of post war DR Congo, well I say post war actually DR Congo or Zaire as it used to be called has been at war for most of the last half century and has had various names. What Fiston Mwanza Mujilla has captured here is what are the people who stay with in this chaos, why would you stay ? Well with the two main characters of this book Luicen the honest writer observing the world he lives in and his friend the darker survivor Requiem  who has had to learn to steal and trick to get by in this world. I was so remind in this two of the classic dickens pairing of Oliver twist and the Artful dodger, there is no Fagin in this story unless we see Tram 83 and all its sins as a metaphoric Fagin.

Tram 83 was one of the most popular restaurants and hooker bars, its renown stretching beyond the city-states borders.”see tram 83 and die,” was the refrain of the tourist who blew into town from the four corners of the globe to conduct their business during the day they wandered zombie-like through the mining concessions they owned by the dozen, and at night ended up in Tram 83 to refresh their memory. This gave the place every appearence of true theater, if not a massive circus. Here’s the kind of thing you might hear as background noise:

“I want ti massage you by way of foreplay, then slowly suck you off,suck your whole body,suckyou till my mouth runs dry”

I feel this paints a great picture of Tram 83 and the people who use and work there.

Tram 83 the heart of this book is one of those ramshackle clubs, I was reminded of the club Michael Palin visit a club in pole to pole a ramshackle place full of the city, like this club The club reflects the needs of the men in a way of this world loose women, easy drink and drugs. Also the way these people are trying to tear apart the world outside their door that is the sheer wealth of minerals that are available we often hear the terms Conflict or blood diamonds but now we see the real cost of ripping the heart of Africa out. What fills the vacuum of a lawless world where Police and state have failed well the characters in this book and who else well are two lead characters.

There are cities which don’t need literature: they are literature. They files past, chest thrust out, head on their shoulders. They are proud and full of confidence despite the garbage bags they cart around. The city-state, an example among so many others – she pulsated with literature.

“I love you, baby”

“I don’t like foreplay, it kills the pleasure ”

“Do you have the time ?”

The city-state was written by her gigolos,her baby chicks, her diggers, her four star whore house, her dissident rebels ready to imprison you,her prospectors,her semi-tourist.Lucien rushwed into the nnight, his imitation-leather bag slung across his body.

I loved this chapter opening about the city of Lubumbashi the city state setting of the book .

The book has a poetic tone, I search for info about Fiston and found out he was a poet before he wrote this his first novel. The style of writing reminds me of how you may rift on styles there is many mentions of Jazz on the cover and in reviews, but for me this is more what great hip hop does and that is rift on everything the heart of Congo music is Soukous, those string lead rifts of singers like Pape Wemba, I picture the kids of Fiston generations drawing on this to make it the heart of their hip hop and maybe Fiston is drawing on this himself the soulful voice of Soukos through modern artist like Werrason has become a voice of modern DR Congo. I also have never fully got Jazz.

DR congo fiction

Translator – Roland Glasser

Source – Review copy

Have you a favourite African book set during a civil war ?

 

A grain of wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

20150918_192513

A grain of wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Kenyan fiction

Source – Personnel copy

Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!
…….
Men and people will fight ya down (Tell me why!)
When ya see Jah light. (Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!)
Let me tell you if you’re not wrong; (Then, why?)
Everything is all right.
So we gonna walk – all right! – through de roads of creation:
We the generation (Tell me why!)
(Trod through great tribulation) trod through great tribulation.

Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!
Oh, yeah! O-oo, yeah! All right!
Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!

I choose Exdous a Marley sung about freedom this lyric is influenced by a biblical text as is the title of the book .

 

I add a second from the list of names in the nobel Betting for this years Lit prize the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o  has been high on the betting the last few years .He studied in Both Kenya , Uganda and Leeds in the uk,which is where he wrote this book in 1967.He is an active campaigner for maintaining African languages and has written a number of books in his own Gikuyu language .

Mugo felt nervous .He was lying on his back and looking at the roof .Sooty locks hung from the fern and grass thatch and all pointed at his heart .A clear drop of water was delicately suspended above .The drop fattened and grew dirtier as it absorbed grains of soot ,Then started drawing towards him.He tried to shut his eyes.The would not close .

The opening sets the scene so well .

A grain of wheat is set in the time just before,during and after the independence of Kenya . WE see the story of how Kenya gained independence  in a series of flashback stories as we are in the present with Mugo ,a lonely man in his village as the prepared to celebrate Independence day .Add to this a revenge for a traitor that is to be dealt with on this day or as it is called by the villagers Uhuru day (freedom day ) . Mugo sold people out to the brits but he wasn’t the only one Karanja did as well where as others in the village fought with the rebels and killed a brutal police man  and were capture and sent to prison whilst the wives were left behind with men like Karanja need I say more,add to this a Brit ex pat that is in one man all that was wrong with Brits in Africa John Thomson is that man .All this in one small african village the whole country in a group of a few men each showing a side of the conflict and how it effect each one of them .

Kenya Regained her Uhuru from the British on 12 December 1963 .A minute before midnight , lights were put out at Nairobi stadium so that people from all over the country and the world who gathered there for the midnight ceremony were swallowed by darkness .In the dark ,the Union Jack was quickly lowered .When next the lights came o the new Kenya flag was flying and fluttering and waving,in the air .The police band played the new National Anthem

Near the end we see the Freedom regained for Kenya .

What we see here is one of the books that is considered the main books in the cannon of African fiction a book that breaks away in style somewhat of earlier novels .The feel is of using the oral tradition in the village in the way the story of them all getting to Uhuru are woven into a complex novel  that shows how Britain was in Africa , how Kenya found freedom  is a blueprint for a number of other countries that found freedom afterwards  .This book is still as powerful as when it was written .I have had him as nobel winner for a few years it just the look of the draw who will win next week .

Have you read Thiong’o ?

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