The transformation of a "continent of sorcerers and fetish makers" into a modern culture is paralleled by the growth to young manhood of a delightful protagonist: a glorious 1998 novel by the native Congolese author (now American citizen) of The Fire of Origins (2000).
In a deadpan opening that slyly mocks the pop grandiosity of Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Michel (a.k.a. "Matapari," which means, roughly, "trouble") describes his remarkable birth as an unnoticed triplet who emerged from his mother's womb a day later than his elder twin brothers on the 20th anniversary of his unnamed country's independence. Matapari grows up intellectually curious under the benign influence of his scholarly father, a gentle skeptic; as a would-be "tough guy" inspired by films and TV ("dreaming of being Rambo or Mad Max"); as a well-meaning idealist attracted by both the world of political influence and by the wealth courted by his scheming uncle Boula Boula (a wonderful braggart and trickster who might have stepped out of one of V.S. Naipaul's early novels); and as a devout student of "the books of man and the book of the universe" who's urged on Matapari by his beloved Grandfather. This unfailingly lively and charming tale, filled with boisterous comic episodes, deepens appreciably as it proceeds, when the machineries of "democratization" lead inexorably to violence in the streets, political imprisonment, persecution, and to Matapari's realization that the promises of discovery and healing contained in the texts his father worships will always be interrupted and subverted by men who pursue earthly agendas rather than "the stars." Dongala ends it all memorably, as Matapari's family keeps a solemn vigil during Grandfather's final illness.
A brilliant, many-colored work, and a stunning companion piece to the rather different The Fire of Origins. Dongala may be the most accomplished novelist from Africa since Chinua Achebe.