WAITING FOR BOJANGLES by Olivier Bourdeaut


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A young French boy’s adventures with his unpredictable parents.

The nameless child narrator lives with his father, mother, and a pet crane dubbed "Mademoiselle Superfluous" in a French apartment crammed with a mountain of unopened mail, a TV crowned by a dunce cap, and a checkerboard-floored front hall. He’s enchanted by the life his parents lead, even when they pull him from school in part because he keeps missing days so the family can go on vacation—“to heaven,” his parents call it. And after the boy’s father, George, leaves his job as a "garage opener" at his wife’s insistence, the family enters into a seemingly limitless stretch of time in which they vacation in Spain, play Nina Simone’s "Mr. Bojangles" on the record player, and mix umbrella-topped cocktails in relative bliss. But reality intrudes after a tax assessor shows up at their apartment to collect an unpaid balance. The mother, already “charmingly ignorant of the way the world work[s],” strays further from reality and toward increasingly erratic and dangerous behavior. As the mother’s mental illness progresses and George and his son attempt to protect her from herself and others, the novel probes the painful and often futile lengths people will go to for those they love. Told partly in rhyme (and interspersed with excerpts from George’s diary), Bourdeaut’s debut is both a charming tale that revels in colorful detail and language and a heart-rending depiction of the brutal march of mental illness. Its part-rhyming structure almost always feels organic (only occasionally reading as cutesy or forced) and lends the narrative a sense of flow and momentum. But it’s the irresistible, childlike sense of delight—even in the face of unimaginable sorrow—that renders the novel a genuinely enjoyable reading experience and one that sparks complex and conflicting emotions.

A unique, evocative debut.

Pub Date: March 19th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5011-4591-9
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2019


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