J’accuse, says the captain. Je confesse, says the prisoner. Mais….
“Africa haunts our black skin,” says the narrator of N’Sondé’s slender novel, nameless but not voiceless. Congolese born but French by culture and inclination, he lives in a gritty banlieue outside Paris; his best friend, never at home in the country, is in a mental hospital, while his girlfriend has decided to move to Jerusalem without him, and meanwhile he is becoming increasingly aware that like all Africans, he is scarcely tolerated in the colonial homeland. Depressed, he drinks a night away and commits a crime from which there is no return. Now, in jail, he offers a stream-of-consciousness confession to the powers that be, not just the gendarmes, but also his ancestors, who bowed down before the European conqueror and to whom he now importunes, “What kind of legacy have you passed on to us, what wasted freedom, laws executed by those with the most powerful arms?” He is guilty, of course, but not without feeling: his is not the stoical detachment of a Meursault but instead the aggrieved howl of one provoked to do wrong even as he knows he shouldn’t have given in to the impulse. Traveling between the France of his experience and the Africa of his imagination, the narrator offers a powerful view of the immigrant, never quite at home, always a stranger in two places. That experience is a bitter one indeed; as he says, nearing the end of his soliloquy, “Yes, gentlemen of the court, I pissed out all my frustrations…my fear of the future, the love that left me, a devastated Congo, my friends’ distress, petrol the color of blood, the cement in my veins, rage in my eyes, and the invisible ones I no longer hear.”
Francophone African writers, like African writers generally, are too little known in this country. This brief but potent tale shows that N’Sondé is one who merits attention.