Pensive, meditative novel of war and its reverberations far from home.
N’Sondé’s small novel begins with an invocation, uttered by a woman in the distant Congo, for Mother Earth, “the temperamental Majesty that had created all that we see and that we cannot see in this world,” to find a wayward young man who is now hiding in plain sight in Paris, carefully guarding the few coins that will buy him a sandwich or a tin of sardines for his daily meal. He is sans-papiers, an illegal immigrant in the French capital, and as the story unfolds, Clovis Nzila has good reason to be there: he has gone from being a country kid–turned–street urchin in a Congolese city to being a child soldier in a chaotic country whose leaders “rushed to disguise the misery and irreparableness as democracy.” With his gun, Clovis has become someone; now, though he bears the name of a legendary French king, he is less than no one, though his deliverance through the love of a Frenchwoman helps him confront and reveal his terrible past—for, as it develops, Clovis was not just a soldier, but a leader, heading a band with barely pubescent lieutenants bearing names like Lord-of-Death and One-Eye-Two-Words. N’Sondé’s novel is surely a contribution to the growing literature of child soldiers and post-colonial wars of terror; it contains horrific moments worthy of Joseph Conrad, as when Clovis recounts, memorably, “As we paraded proudly through the apocalypse, the shadow of hate oozed from our gaze and stuck to our skin.” N’Sondé makes it clear that his characters have been abandoned by the gods and are alone in the world, left to fend for themselves—but as the tale moves through the streets of Paris and in and out of past and present, it is just as clear that redemption is possible in the company of other people.
Scarifying and memorable and worthy of a place alongside the best modern African writing.