Christina Månsson

Review | Little hot pepper

Image: covers of theoriginal French, Dutch and English edition

The protagonist Moses in Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses grows up in an orphanage on the outskirts of Pointe-Noire in the independent Republic of the Congo that is on the eve of the creation of the imaginary People's Republic of the Congo, a Marxist–Leninist state.

As the novel starts Moses recalls his years in the orphanage from the moment he was abandoned there as a baby to the inner turmoil and desires he experienced as he becomes an adolescent. He recalls a catholic priest Papa Moupelo, a peculiar man who used to turn up to the weekly sermons at the orphanage in his red Renault 4. Moupelo was one of the few if not the only person who had a great impact on him. It was he who gave him his full name: Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bokako — Lingala for “Thanks be to God, the black Moses is born on the earth of our ancestors.”

Everything that took place within the orphanage seems to be a microcosm of the political upheaval outside. The children live under the rule of their very own Marien Ngouabi the brutal director Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako, accompanied by his own guards. But among the children there are two exceptions. The 17-year-old twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala, who impose their own reign of terror on the other children, complete with ruthless physical reprisals. They are more evil than the director. Moses fears them but it doesn’t stop him from lacing their food with hot pepper. It’s the end of the terror and the rebirth of Moses as a collaborator. The twins recruit him to follow them to Pointe-Noire, where obstacles on an even grander scale awaits them.

The book details a personal quest for redemption and achievement of certain autonomy while the road is besieged by powerful forces. It is a coming of age novel which Mabanckou tells with a great sense of humour. But from page one it is also as if Mabanckou says the future is already there - it is irrevocable and cannot be changed.

Upcoming events with Alain Mabanckou | January 18-21: Mabanckou is one of the main guests of Winternachten festival in the Hague and participates in various events | January 21: OBA Akademia, Amsterdam. Interview by Margot Dijkgraaf

Biography | Alain Mabanckou was born in Republic of the Congo in 1966. He is an award-winning novelist, poet, and essayist. He currently resides in Los Angeles, United States where he teaches literature at the University of California. In 2006 his Memoires de porc-épic (Memoirs of a Porcupine), was awarded the Prix Renaudot, one of the highest distinctions in French literature. In 2012 he was awarded the Académie Française’s Grand Prix de Littérature Henri Gal for his body of work. In 2015, Mabanckou was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize. List of works: African Psycho, Broken Glass, Black Bazaar, and Tomorrow I'll Be Twenty, as well as The Lights of Pointe-Noire, and Black Moses (French: Petit Piment, Dutch: Prins Peper).

Dutch translation Mabanckou, Alain, Prins Peper, 9789044539547, De Geus, hardback September 2017 | English translation Black Moses | Original French edition Petit Piment.