Authors: Alain Mabanckou
was born in 1966 in Congo. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches literature at UCLA. He was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix de LittÃ©rature Henri Gal for his body of work. He has also received the Subsaharan African Literature Prize for
, and the Prix Renaudot for
Memoirs of a Porcupine
, which is published by Serpent's Tail along with his other novels,
Praise for Alain Mabanckou
âThis bar-room yarn-spinner tells his fellow tipplers' tales in a voice that swings between broad farce and aching tragedy. His farewell performance from a perch in Credit Gone West abounds in scorching wit and flights of eloquenceâ¦ vitriolic comedy and pugnacious irreverence' Boyd Tonkin,
âA dizzying combination of erudition, bawdy humour and linguistic effervescence' Melissa McClements,
is a comic romp that releases Mabanckou's sense of humourâ¦ Although its cultural and intertextual musings could fuel innumerable doctorates, the real meat of
is its comic brio, and Mabanckou's jokes work the whole spectrum of humour' Tibor Fischer,
âDeserves the acclaim heaped upon itâ¦ self-mocking and ironic, a thought-provoking glimpse into a stricken country'
Waterstone's Books Quarterly
for Africa's blank generationâ¦ a deftly ironic Grand Guignol, a pulp fiction vision of Frantz Fanon's “wretched of
the earth” that somehow manages to be both frightening and self-mocking at the same time'
, New York
âThe French have already called [Mabanckou] a young writer to watch. After this debut, I certainly concur'
Globe and Mail
âBroken Glass proves to be an obsessive, slyly playful raconteurâ¦ the prose runs wild to weave endless sentences, their rhythm and pace attuned to the narrator's rhetorical extravagancesâ¦ With his sourly comic recollections, Broken Glass makes a fine companion' Peter Carty,
âA book of grubby eruditionâ¦ full of tall tales that can entertain readers from Brazzaville to Bognor' James Smart,
âMabanckou's narrative gains an uplifting momentum of its own' Emma Hagestadt,
âMabanckou's irreverent wit and madcap energy have made him a big name in Franceâ¦ surreal' Giles Foden,
CondÃ© Nast Traveller
âMagical realism meets black comedy in an excellent satire by an inventive and playful writer' Alastair Mabbott,
âAfrica's Samuel Beckettâ¦ Mabanckou's freewheeling prose marries classical French elegance with Paris slang and a Congolese beat. It weds the oral culture of his mother to an omnivorous bibliophilia encouraged by his stepfatherâ¦
Memoirs of a Porcupine
draws on oral lore and parables in its sly critique of those who use traditional beliefs as a pretext for violence'
Translated by Helen Stevenson
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
A complete catalogue record for this book can be obtained from the British Library on request
The right of Alain Mabanckou to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988
Copyright Â© 2010 Editions Gallimard
Translation copyright Â© 2013 Helen Stevenson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
First published as
Demains J'aurai Vingt Ans
in 2010 by Editions Gallimard
First published in this translation in 2013 by Serpent's Tail,
an imprint of Profile Books Ltd
3A Exmouth House
London EC1R 0JH
ISBN 978 1 84668 584 2
eISBN 978 1 84765 789 3
Designed and typeset by [email protected]
Printed by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my mother Pauline KenguÃ© â died 1995
For my father Roger Kimangou â died 2004
To Dany LaferriÃ¨re
The sweetest thought
In the child's warm heart:
Soiled sheets and white lilac
Tomorrow I'll be twenty
TCHICAYA U TAM' SI
Edited by P.J. Oswald, 1955
In this country, a boss should always be bald and have a big belly. My uncle isn't bald, he hasn't got a big belly, and you don't realise, the first time you see him, that he's the actual boss of a big office in the centre of town. He's an âadministrative and financial director'. Maman Pauline says an administrative and financial director is someone who keeps all the company's money for himself and says: âI'll hire you, I won't hire you, and I'm sending you back to where you came from.'
Uncle RenÃ© works at the CFAO, the only company in Pointe-Noire that sells cars. He has a telephone and a television in his house. Maman Pauline thinks things like that cost too much for what they are, there's no point having them because people lived better lives without. Why put a telephone in your own home when you can go and make a call from the post office in the Grand MarchÃ©? Why have television when you can listen to the news on the radio? And anyway, the Lebanese down at the Grand MarchÃ© sell radios, you can beat them down on the price. You can also pay in instalments if you're a civil servant or an administrative and financial director, like my uncle.
I often think to myself that Uncle RenÃ© is more powerful than the God people praise and worship every Sunday at the church of Saint-Jean-Bosco. No one's ever seen Him, but people are afraid of His mighty power, as though He might tell us off or give us a smack, when in fact He lives far far away, further than any Boeing can fly. If you want to speak to Him, you have
to go to church and the priest will pass on a message to Him, which He'll read if he has a spare moment, because up there He's run off his feet, morning, noon and night.
Uncle RenÃ© is anti-church and is always saying to my mother: âReligion is the opium of the people!'
Maman Pauline told me, if anyone calls you âopium of the people' you should punch him straight off, because it's a serious insult, and Uncle RenÃ© wouldn't go using a complicated word like âopium' just for the fun of it. Since then, whenever I do something silly, Maman Pauline calls me âopium of the people'. And in the playground, if my friends really annoy me I call them âopium of the people!' and then we get into a fight over that.
My uncle says he's a communist. Usually communists are simple people, they don't have television, telephone, or electricity, hot water or air conditioning, and they don't change cars every six months like Uncle RenÃ©. So now I know you can also be communist and rich.
I think the reason my uncle is tough with us is because the communists are strict about how things should be done, because of the capitalists stealing all the goods of the poor wretched of the Earth, including their means of production. How are the poor wretched of the Earth going to live off their labours if the capitalists own the means of production and refuse to share, eating up the profits, instead of splitting them fifty-fifty with the workers?
The thing that gets my Uncle RenÃ© really angry is the capitalists, not the communists, who must unite because apparently the final struggle won't be long now. At least, that's what they teach us at the Ã©cole populaire in Moral studies. They tell us, for
instance, that we are the future of the Congo, that it's up to us to make sure that capitalism doesn't win the final struggle. We are the National Pioneer Movement. To start with we children belong to the National Pioneer Movement and later we'll belong to the Congolese Workers' Party â the CPT â and maybe one day one of us will even become President of the Republic, who also runs the CPT.
Hearing me â Michel â use the words my uncle uses, you might think I was a true communist, but in fact I'm not. It's just that he uses these strange, complicated words so often â âcapital', âprofit', âmeans of production', âmarxism', âleninism', âmaterialism', âinfrastructure', âsuperstructure', âbourgeoisie', âclass struggle', âproletariat', etc., I've ended up knowing them all, even if I do sometimes mix them up without meaning to and don't always understand them. For instance, when he talks about the wretched of the Earth, what he really means is the starving masses. The capitalists starve them, so they'll turn up to work the next day, even though they're being exploited and they didn't eat yesterday. So before the hungry can win their struggle against the capitalists, they must do a tabula radar of the past and take their problems in hand, instead of waiting for someone else to come and liberate them. Otherwise they're truly stuffed, they'll be forever hungry and eternally exploited.
When we sit down to eat at Uncle RenÃ©'s house, I always get put in the worst seat, bang opposite the photo of an old white guy called Lenin, who won't take his eyes off me, even though I don't even know him, and he doesn't know me either. I don't like having an old white guy who doesn't even know me giving me nasty looks, so I look him straight back in the eye. I know it's rude to look grown up people in the eye, that's why I do it
in secret, or my uncle will get cross and tell me I'm being disrespectful to Lenin who is admired the world over.