A tender, poetic chronicle of an exile’s return.

Beset by memories, a Congolese writer revisits his native village.

In 1989, when he was 22, novelist, poet, and essayist Mabanckou (Literature/ UCLA; Letter to Jimmy, 2014, etc.) left Pointe-Noire, in the Congo, and went to France. Twenty-three years later, he returned, feeling “like a migrating bird,” with “one foot suspended, hoping I might stop the flow of my existence, whose smooth course is troubled by the myriad leaves blown down from the family tree.” In lyrical and disarmingly serene prose, the author evokes his shock, wonder, and sometimes dismay as he searches for his past. At the Lycée Karl Marx, where he attended secondary school, he hoped “to relive the moment when my spirit ventured far from our native land, in search of universal knowledge.” Filled with apprehension as a new student, he saw education as his path away from the insularity of his family and into the world. He was incredulous when he learned that the school had been renamed, honoring a tyrannical governor of French Equatorial Africa. Much of the memoir evokes Mabanckou’s family: his strong-willed mother, whose death in 1995 was so traumatic that he could not face returning for her funeral; his aunt, whom he calls Grandma Hélène, “one of those people who you think has to have been born old, toothless, white haired, hesitant in her movements, like a stray gastropod”; his mother’s cousin, the lecherous Grand Poupy; assorted relatives; and others who insist they are related to him, the better to extract money. They live in a world pricked by petty squabbles and swirling with superstition. Grandma Hélène, for example, has “an obsessive fear of whites” because she believes a white woman will kiss her on the forehead and lead her to the land of the dead, where the sun never rises.

A tender, poetic chronicle of an exile’s return.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62097-190-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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