An engaging novel that won Alain Mabanckou France’s Grand Prix littéraire d’Afrique Noire in 1999, Blue White Red, stands at the beginning of the author’s remarkable and multifaceted career as a novelist, essayist and poet. Presented from the perspective of Massala-Massala, a young Congolese man with a dream, the novel depicts the aspirations that many young Africans of his generation shared: move to Paris, make a lot of money, live the good life there… and come home regularly to bring presents to family and friends … and spread the dream to others. Things are undoubtedly not like they seem, and this makes for entertaining as well as thought provoking reading.
In “Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty” (Serpent’s Tail, 2013), his latest novel to be published in English, the Franco-Congolese adds tenderness to his signature ironic tone. Through Michel, his young alter ego, Mabanckou mischievously recalls his childhood in the port-city of Pointe-Noire, on the Atlantic coast of Congo-Brazzaville. Michel is caught in a whirl of minor events he describes with touching candor: the hiccups in his love relationship with Caroline, the witch tricks of Ousmane the Senegalese shopkeeper, the unfairness of the teacher’s ranking system… But Michel is also concerned with the stories he hears through his father’s radio, from the exile of Iran’s Shah to the craze of Uganda’s Idi Amin. Domestic and historic events intermingle hilariously in “Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty”, offering a moving depiction of how it was like to grow up in Africa in the late seventies.
With nine novels, five collections of poems and a bunch of essays to his name, Franco-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou is a literary phenomenon in the Francophone world. Renowned for the derisive drollery of his prose but also for his candour when talking about Africa, he has become an important voice of African literature – a subject he now teaches at UCLA. We talked to him on the occasion of the publication in English of his novel “Tomorrow I will be 20 years old”, in which he evokes with mischievousness and emotion his childhood in Pointe-Noire, the Congolese port city on the Atlantic coast. In this interview with Africa Book Club, Alain Mabanckou speaks about African identity, his eclectic influences and why it is difficult to define an “African literature”.
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.
Self delusion and self awareness are central themes in Mabanckou’s work. By patiently chronicling the tragicomedies surrounding him, Broken Glass testifies of life’s harshness when one is poor and has nothing but liquor and past dreams to escape his condition. But humour is never far with Mabanckou, and Broken Glass, with its inimitable prose can soothe the direst tragedies.
In Memoirs of a Porcupine, a hilarious novel, published in May 2011 by Serpent’s Tail, the Congo-Brazzaville-born author Alain Mabanckou brilliantly wraps the vibrant rhythm of the African oral tradition in a corrosive and sarcastic style. His pulsating, hard-headed writing – the book does not count a single full stop – mixed with a plot worthy of the best crime fiction results in a true “beat” that leaves its reader breathless and dazzled. Subtly mocking almost everything he can, from the lasting influence of custom in African societies to the allegedly emancipating European science, Mabanckou offers a metaphoric tale that gives food for thought – only once the last laugh has faded.