Alain Mabanckou: Verre Cassé (Broken Glass)

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The latest addition to my website is Alain Mabanckou‘s Verre Cassé (Broken Glass), another colourful and lively novel from the Congolese author. In this novel, the narrator is called Broken Glass – we never know his real name – and he seems to spend most of his time in a bar called, simply, Credit. The bar has one advantage for the various patrons, namely it is open twenty-four hours a day. The owner had one day passed some notebooks to Broken Glass and asked him to keep the notebooks as a record of the bar, in case anything happened to him. Broken Glass, however, decides to write his own account of the bar and its patrons and this book is his account. He tells lively, colorful stories about himself and the various patrons. Several of the patrons, including Broken Glass himself, had been thrown out by their wives/partners because of their drunkenness, while the others all seemed to have had failed relationships and ended up in the bar for solace. Indeed, this novel can be said to an oral account (albeit written down) of a few men who have completely failed to achieve much in life, except to get drunk.

Alain Mabanckou: Lumières de Pointe-Noire (The Lights of Pointe-Noire)

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The latest addition to my website is Alain Mabanckou‘s Lumières de Pointe-Noire (The Lights of Pointe-Noire). This is a fictionalised autobiography following from his earlier Demain j’aurai vingt ans (Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty). It tells primarily of his return to the Congo twenty-six years after he left, his mourning for his mother, Pauline and, to a lesser extent, for his stepfather, Roger. Inevitably, much of the book is about his earlier life. His biological father left before he was born and Pauline moved in with Roger, who already had seven children with Martine. Roger, a hotel receptionist, divided his time between the two families and this seemed to work well – both women accepting the situation – till Roger acquired a third mistress. The narrator tells various stories about his mother and his family, involving witchcraft, superstitions, money, politics and the local culture. Though much of it is about his earlier life, we also follow what happens to him on his return, including the greed of his half-siblings, his problems with his mother’s property and and the fact he is naturally out of touch with life in the Congo. Indeed, he seems quite glad to leave and sneaks off back to France without telling anyone. It is certainly an enjoyable book and will appear in English next month (14 May) in both the UK and USA.

Alain Mabanckou: Les Petits-fils nègres de Vercingétorix [The Negro Grandsons of Vercingetorix]

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The latest addition to my website is Alain Mabanckou‘s Les Petits-fils nègres de Vercingétorix [The Negro Grandsons of Vercingetorix]. I found this novel somewhat disappointing, as it is a bit disjointed and seems to be telling one story but never manages to get on with it. It is about the civil war and its effect in the Republic of the Congo, thinly disguised in this book as Vietongo. We follow two couples – Hortense (who has nominally written her story which this novel is) and her husband Kimbembé, and Christiane and Gaston. The problem is, is that Hortense and Gaston are from the north and their spouses from the South but both couples are living in the South. This causes all sorts of problems as the current Northern president, Edou, is from the North but has seized power and is very much resented by the people of the South, including the guerrilla group, Les Petits-fils nègres de Vercingétorix [The Negro Grandsons of Vercingetorix], led by the former prime minister, named after a Gaulish leader who opposed Julius Caesar. With Kimbembé very much involved with the Petits-fils, Hortense decides to flee with their daughter, Marimbé, but their story more or less peters out, as Mabanckou/Hortense focuses on the back stories of the key participants and the political background to the civil war. This is one of the few of Mabanckou’s novels that has not been translated into English and I can more or less see why.