The award-winning African author (African Psycho, 2007) returns with a novel about Africa and the West.
The eponymous hero is a former teacher. He’s also the official historian of Credit Gone West, the shabby Congo bar where he spends his days downing red wine and recording stories in the notebook given to him by the bar’s owner. This novel is, among other things, an idiosyncratic and raucously impertinent tour of the Western canon, with a particular emphasis on French literature (the subject Mabanckou now teaches at UCLA). The unreliable narrator is, of course, a venerable figure in European and American fiction, especially of the postmodern sort, and the kind of literary brinksmanship that results in a novel that’s constructed entirely from very long run-on sentences is also familiar. But such devices feel both fresh and necessary here. The Republic of the Congo—not to be confused with its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo—is, itself, a sort of postmodern state, a rather perilous assemblage cobbled out of a Bantu past and French colonialism, and shaped by civil war and political corruption. It’s also worth noting that, unlike many authors who might be called experimental, Mabanckou is funny, and his Rabelaisian riffs are a brilliant counterpoint to the real despair and dysfunction he depicts.
Important, entertaining and subtly moving.