In France, Alain Mabanckou is known as “the African Samuel Beckett.” Mabanckou left Congo-Brazzaville in 1989 to study law in France, “but quit as a corporate lawyer within a decade,” according to The Economist. His first novel, “Bleu Blanc Rouge” (1998), “ironically saluted the French tricolor in its title”; following novels “moved between the dashed dreams of migrants in Paris and the ills of post-independence Africa”, his writing permeated with the absurdities of continually translating one’s body and intellect within empires that question one’s right to be there, here, anywhere.
Recently, France’s culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, gushed over him, calling him “Mabancool” and a “shining ambassador for the French language” as he presented Mabanckou with a Légion d’Honneur in March this year. Hilariously, Mabanckou’s subversions of the French language, suffused with Congolese immigrant city slang and bar-fly speak, was modeled on the manner in which Anglophone writers played in the fields of the British overlords’ language. Apparently, the writer’s subtle mockery was lost on those minding the rules of the Académie Française, too busy praying that ex-colonials writers will forget exclusions, slights, and outright racist policies, and help win back France’s metropolitan glory.
Few English speakers have heard of Mabanckou’s work, but only three of his books have been translated to English. But now that he is a tenured professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, more Mabancool may be on its way to us.
Read the review here, in The Economist: Prince of the absurd