(K. Brent Tomer),
Black Moses. By Alain Mabanckou. Translated by Helen Stevenson. Serpent’s Tail; 199 pages; £12.99. To be published in America by the New Press in June.
HOW wonderfully typical of an Alain Mabanckou character to fall sick because of a syntactic error. After the few ups and many downs of life as a friendless orphan in the Republic of Congo, Little Pepper, the narrator of “Black Moses”, sinks into delirium. Taken to a Paris-trained psychologist, he insists: “I’m ill because of my adverbials.” Adrift from “time, place or manner”, he cannot “complete the action expressed by the verb”.
Language and literature bestow both blessings and curses on the picaresque heroes in Mr Mabanckou’s novels of his central African homeland. The formal elegance of French opens doors of opportunity. Its weight can also tether these grandchildren of empire to feelings of inadequacy, snared “like a snail caught in the spiral of its own slime”. “Black Moses” exhibits all the charm, warmth and verbal brio that have won the author of “Broken Glass” and “African Psycho” so many admirers—and the informal title…Continue reading