Award-winning Congolese (Brazzaville) author Alain Mabanckou of an impressive list of novels to his name, delves with African Psycho (2003) into the underbelly of a large African industrial city in disarray. His stinging critique of that society and its institutions, vaguely identifiable as his own, its post-colonial links to “the country over there” (France) and the rivalry with the other Congo (DRC), is couched in bitter, yet at the same time hilarious satire and farce.
Grégoire Nakobomayo, a petty criminal, is dreaming about his soon to be expected fame as a deserving successor of his idol Angoualima, serial killer and widely recognized Master of Crime.
In the first sentence of his ‘confession of a would-be murderer’, Grégoire identifies his target, Germaine, who he has decided to kill on December 29. Whether he succeeds with his plan and how he prepares himself for it, will have to be discovered by the reader. Grégoire’s aim is, above all, to achieve notoriety and media fame that will bring him up to par with or even outshine his hero, Angoualima. Angoualima, Mabanckou explained in a conversation with me (2010), was a real person and any Congolese reader would have known about him. Young people were afraid of this man, who attempted to create an African version of all what he perceived Europe and the West to represent -from violence to consumerism.
In a constant flow of internal chatter, interrupted only rarely by dialog, Grégoire ruminates about this rotten life, the poverty and squalor of his shanty-town district, the polluted river “Seine” that divides his city, the incompetence of the police and the justice system… Being one of the “picked-up children” (orphans) that were abundant in the streets of his district, he has no ties to anybody; his home are the streets. From early on in his life, he is proud of his criminal tendencies whether he agrees with the concept of the “born criminal” or not. The only special, even emotional relationship he feels is with his now departed, to him mystical, superhero. Regularly he visits the cemetery, seeking advice and blessings.
Mabanckou’s language and style matches the meanderings of a young man without much education and no ambition except for this one: to outshine his idol. Grégoire uses nicknames for every locality, whether his own district “He-Who-Drinks-the-Water-Is-An-Idiot”, the local pubs or the different streets in the red-light district. Seen together these descriptions build a portrait of a depressing, violent and hopeless place. The author’s satire, however, goes deep, his language and descriptions are very expressive, blunt and often vulgar. At the same time, he maintains a sense of humour making some of the more gruesome scenes palatable and absurdly hilarious. We can recognize a writing style that Mabanckou exquisitely builds on in novels like Broken Glass (Verre Cassé) and Memoirs of a Porcupine (Mémoires de porc-épic).
African Psycho was published 2003, translated as the first of the author’s novels into English in 2007. Alain Mabanckou, a lawyer by training, has been publishing fiction since 1998; he has been teaching Francophone Literature in the United States at different universities since 2002 and is now a full professor for African Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was made “Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur” in France.