Friday, December 22, 2017

Republic of Congo: Black Moses, by Alain Mabanckou

Alain Mabanckou was born and grew up in Congo, and currently lives in Los Angeles. I have to confess, I am still a little confused about the two Congos. It would have been simpler if the other - the former "Belgian Congo" - had retained its name adopted in the late twentieth century of Zaire instead of becoming the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Republic of the Congo is apparently also called Congo-Brazzaville after its capital city, which is just across the river from Kinshasa, the capital city of Congo-Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Congo-Brazzaville was formerly part of French Equatorial Africa.

Its other large city is the port city of Pointe-Noire, where the author grew up and this story is set. The hero is an orphan who was given a name by the priest Papa Moupelo "Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko" which means in Lingala "Thanks be to God, the black Moses is born on the earth of our ancestors". The story follows his time in the orphanage where he eventually falls in with the twins Tala-Tala and Songi-Songi. The orphanage is under the control of a corrupt director. The Marxist-Leninist revolution of the 1970s has caused the demise of the priest Papa Moupelo as religion is now out of favour. Moses escapes the orphanage with the twins to live a rough life on the streets of Pointe-Noire, and finds a home among the Zairian prostitutes of the Trois-Cents quarter. As he grows up, they encourage him to find honest work. But his good times do not last...

I enjoyed the book, but to my Western notions of story arc, the ending seemed a little off...somehow not the type of resolution we would normally expect from a novel. Poor Moses does not come out of life very well, in the end, which seemed strange as it had appeared he was going to be a survivor. It is neither quite a tragedy nor a comedy but somehow trails off a little. Still, it was a great insight into the street life of the country, and was a winner of an English Pen award and a finalist for the International Man Booker Prize in 2015.

I also have the author's memoir, "The Lights of Pointe-Noire" and am looking forward to reading that, too.

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