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

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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 ?

A Nobel weekend reading

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Here again with my choices for a weekend off reading wise .First up just about to start this classic of African fiction A grain of wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o .The Kenyan is a name that has been in the list of the top ten writers in the nobel betting the last few years .This is his most well-known work ,  he is also a writer I should had on here before now and also carrying on the tradition on this blog of picking a couple of hopefuls that I haven’t read in the months just before the prize is announced .

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Also on this weekends pile is this , as I say I like to plan and last year hadn’t planned my german lit month reading so well .But this year as my books read list shows I have a few books already read from the IFFP list that just didn’t get to review .Then I’m starting with this throwing a couple of books in the next few weeks of my reading plans .The Prodigy by Herman Hesse is a short novella about how a boy is broken by the teachers and system of teaching the success driven school system brings . He was very keen on Eastern ideas and systems at the time he wrote this book and a number of his later books .

What are you reading ? How far in front do yo plan ?

 

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