In his 13thth novel, the Franco-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou had fun flirting with death. And the resulting story is as colorful as the cover of the book.
Four years. It's still a long wait when you really like an author and the latter takes all that time before offering us a new novel. In his defense, Alain Mabanckou did not want to publish while the pandemic was raging. Grant most of his press interviews on zoom? Oh no, very little for him.
When we reached him on the phone around mid-September, he was very happy to be in Paris – for a few years, he lives and teaches in Los Angeles – to promote his latest, Le commerce des Allongés. And no sooner had we had him on the phone than he asked us to excuse him for a moment: someone we met in the street wanted to take a selfie with him!
In short, Alain Mabanckou is indisputably one of the bon vivants. Which didn't stop him from writing a book starring death from cover to cover.
“I started thinking about this during one of my stays in Africa,” he explains. In a news item in a newspaper, I read that in Congo, a woman who had been dead for a while reappeared in nightclubs on Independence Day to steal souls. Yes, wacky as hell. Especially for us Westerners. “So I thought that the death of my main character would give me the opportunity to expose our way of seeing things, to illustrate the deepest practices of our society,” he continues.
A hard awakening
Alain Mabanckou may have left the Congo for good at the very beginning of his twenties, but he always ends up returning to Pointe-Noire in his novels. “I think it's an original geography,” he said. I feel like I am in a place where I have wandered for a long time and when I need to go back, I always find something new in this city. And then his soul, his spirit are essential in Le commerce des Relongés.”
Speaking of souls and spirits, we will discover that there are quite a few in Pointe-Noire. Particularly at the Frère-Lachaise cemetery, where Liwa Ekimakingaï will regain consciousness… after losing her life at the age of 24. There, on his grave, he will attend his own funeral and all the rituals that come with it, and he will review in a dream the main lines of his too brief existence: his childhood spent alongside his grandmother, the Pentecostal church he had to attend on Sundays until his pastor started acting up, his job as a kitchen clerk at the Victory Palace Hotel, etc.
“I took the opportunity to embrace some crucial social issues that undermine the African continent, specifies Alain Mabanckou. Gurus, sects, abuse of power, inequality, violence against minors, political corruption, etc. I believe that today it is difficult for me to write without looking at what is around me.
Passing into the other world
Liwa will try to tame his new reality surrounded by a curious band of deceased including among others the artist Lully Madeira (during his lifetime, he consulted a witch doctor to get his career off the ground and he paid dearly for it!), a former director of the National Electricity Company of Congo and a woman who was allegedly arrested and burned for heresy. But as his premature death stuck in his throat, Liwa will also seriously consider revenge on those who sent him ad patres.
A macabre story? Well then, not at all. Alain Mabanckou's pen being always so colorful and entertaining, it rather reserves for us flights often full of humor and candor.
“The difficulty was above all to find an end to this book. To write it, I deployed all the sails out and at one point, I really wondered how I was going to be able to get back on my feet. But that's nothing new, because in general, I don't know how my books are going to end. Each time, I trust myself,” he concludes.
Katrine Johns has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Gal Post, Katrine Johns worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my email@example.com 1-800-268-7128