A coming-of-age story of immigration and disillusionment that begins in post-colonial Congo.
This first novel from Mabanckou (Memoirs of a Porcupine, 2012, etc.), published originally in 1998, received the Grand Prix Littéraire de l’Afrique Noire. Growing up in a small town in the Congo, Massala-Massala lives in the shadow not of France so much as France personified by those who return from there to his community. Moki is worldly, wealthy, stylish, successful and a physically present epitome of Paris. When he returns, the community is in a frenzy: Moki has supplied his family with two cars they use as taxis and funds to construct a villa. More important than actual wealth is Moki’s style. Moki wears major labels, purportedly purchased in designer boutiques; these outfits, and how he wears them, make the man. During one visit, Moki agrees to accompany Massala-Massala to France, and a year is spent preparing. At the end of his next visit home, they leave together. The book’s second half dwells on Massala-Massala’s profound culture shock, on the truth of life as a “débarqué,” a newly arrived illegal immigrant. He learns that Moki is not who he appears to be; Moki’s success is a beautiful illusion, assiduously cultivated as celebrity. In order to obtain his residency papers, Massala-Massala must undergo a sort of initiation: prove his value in the black market where Moki and his friends thrive.
A novel of few surprises, it must be seen for what it is: the uneven debut novel of a significant author with a growing reputation.