Category: Democratic Republic of Congo

Sony Labou Tansi: La vie et demie (Life and a Half)

The latest addition to my website is Sony Labou Tansi‘s La vie et demie (Life and a Half). This is a fable, bitterly attacking African dictators and their brutality and is presumably based, at least in part, on Mobutu Sese Seko, dictator of what was then Zaire. Thr novel starts brutally as the Providential Guide, as the leader of the country is called, interrupts his dinner to brutally stab Martial, leader of the opposition, in front of his family. He stabs, him shoots him and poisons him but Martial will not die, till he cuts him up. The Guide and his successors are haunted by Martial, who continues to appear to them and to the people, while his daughter, Chaïdana, against her father’s wishes, kills off the ministers and, in various guises, seduces the Guide and the ministers, We follow both her successor and the Guide’s successors through an ever more fantastical story. It is a strange and unsettling tale but it undoubtedly reflects how Labou Tansi saw the rule of African dictators.

Fiston Mwanza Mujila: Tram 83 (Tram 83)

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The latest addition to my website is Fiston Mwanza Mujila‘s Tram 83 (Tram 83). As I say in my review, this is the noisiest novel I have ever read and if you don’t think that a novel can be noisy, read this one. It takes place in the major town in a place called merely City-State, a mining country that has seceded from the main country and may be based on Katanga. It is run by a thoroughly corrupt dissident general who has erectile dysfunction problems. Though the novel starts and ends in the noisy, chaotic, dirty shambles of a station, much of the action takes place in the even noisier and more chaotic Tram 83, a restaurant and hooker bar, named after a late night Brussels tram line. Lucien is the diffident intellectual, who is trying to write a play about the country and the General. He has come in from the Back Country, where most of the mining takes place. He is staying with his friend, Requiem, an action man who always seems to have some dodgy deal on the go. Lucien struggles to cope with life, particularly life in the City-State, where corruption, violence, noise, casual sex and eating dogs seem to prevail. Mwanza Mujila gives us a superb portrait of a failed state, a big change from the often somewhat romanticised view of Africa we get in African novels, showing us the noise and chaos and corruption, warts and all. It is a novel that both Africans and non-Africans should read to get a different view of the region.

V. Y. Mudimbe: Entre les eaux (Between Tides)

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The latest addition to my website is V. Y. Mudimbe‘s Entre les eaux (Between Tides), a fairly rare occurrence of a novel from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has been translated into English. This one is about Pierre Landu, a black African Catholic priest who is struggling with his faith. He is serving in an African country that is not named but is clearly Zaïre (the previous name of the Democratic Republic of the Congo). While his white colleagues are secure in their faith, he has doubts. In particular, he finds it hard to accept that his religion, as it stands, is properly serving his fellow countrymen during a time of crisis in the country. His mother and others tell him that Catholicism is a white man’s religion and he fears that God is a colonialist and oppressor, rather than a liberator.

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Eventually, after much internal struggle, he runs off to join a guerrilla group fighting the government forces. Here, he meets the commander, a man of learning, who knows the scriptures but whose religion is Marxism. The commander is able to argue with Pierre and point out to him the failure of Catholicism. However, despite the fact he becomes very much involved with the group, including killing, Pierre still feels that he is, above all, a priest. When the commander disappears and his number two takes over, things get more difficult for Pierre. However, he never resolves his crisis of faith but struggles to live with it. This is a very fine book on faith and its conflicts and we should be grateful that though out of print, it is fairly easy to find in English.

Georges Ngal: L’Errance [Wandering]

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The latest addition to my website is Georges Ngal‘s L’Errance [Wandering]. This is a follow-up to his Giambatista Viko ou Le Viol du discours africain [Giambatista Viko or the Rape of African Discourse]. Like its predecessor, it is both a mockery of current views of African culture, particularly by Africans, as well as proposals for improving the situation. In the previous book, our two heroes, Giambatista Viko and Niaiseux, were condemned for their betrayal of African culture. We now learn they have been condemned to spend much time in convents of African culture. Their sentence has now finished and they are in the fictitious town of Marmonia, writing an account of their adventures for a major daily newspaper. Virtually the entire novel consists of discussions between the two about the problems with African culture and the perceptions of African culture and what to do to improve it. It does make for interesting reading, even if still written in the rather high blown French of the previous novel, but it does not really read like a novel and, as such, must be accounted a failure. The fact that it is out of print and has not been translated tends to bear this out.

Georges Ngal: Giambatista Viko ou Le Viol du discours africain [Giambatista Viko or the Rape of African Discourse]

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The latest addition to my website is Georges Ngal‘s Giambatista Viko ou Le Viol du discours africain [Giambatista Viko or the Rape of African Discourse]. Ngal’s first novel is about the struggle of writing that first novel. Giambatista Viko teaches at an institute of higher learning in what was then Zaïre. He and his colleagues discuss endlessly the nature of literature and, in particular, African writing versus Western (particularly French) writing. African writing is essentially fable writing, set neither in any particular time nor place and using elements such as magic and fantasy and with plenty of bloodshed and betrayal. In the second part, Viko is hauled before a strange court, possibly in the afterlife, where he is on trial for betraying African literature by being too Western. It is all quite clever but it does not really work for me.

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