I seem to be on a bit of a roll lately when it comes to reading authors I’ve never read before, especially those in translation (Ammaniti’s The Crossroads, Alvetegen’s Shadow, Prichard’s One Moonlit Night and Enquist’s a Leap to name but five), and the latest read I’m about to begin in my literary journey is no different. Broken Glass is the recently translated-to-English novel from Congolese author Alain Mabanckou. I’ve already raved about its delicious cover, and I’ve also pointed you to a recent interview with The Guardian’s Richard Lea, and now it’s finally time for me to excitedly dive into Mabanckou’s world of the written word.
As I’ve said, I know little of Broken Glass and just as much about its author. I do know, from his Guardian interview, that Mabanckou seems a hugely passionate man, and I know from reviews of his only other translated-to-English novel – African Psycho (e.g. Callista at SMS Book Reviews), that Mabanckou is something of a ‘shock’ writer, but what else did I manage to find out about him?
The author bio in Broken Glass tells us that Mabanckou currently lives in California and teaches French Literature at the UCLA, and his bio also tells us that he has written six novels to date, together with a veritable mountain of poetry. I also found out that Mabanckou’s first novel Bleu-Blanc-Rouge (at this time only available in the vernacular), won the prestigious Le Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique Noire award in 1999, and that the French journal Lire has selected Mabanckou as one of 50 writers to watch out for this century (which although flattering is a bit premature don’t you think, given we’re only in the first decade? )). This all adds up to a ‘resume’ for one really competent writer, and one I’m excited to be exploring further.
So what’s Broken Glass all about then. Well the best way to discover that is to skim the cover blurb, which goes a little something like this:
‘So begins Alain Mabanckou’s riotous novel set in a dilapidated bar in the Congo. Disgraced school-teacher turned public writer, Broken Glass fails abysmally to stay out of trouble, as one drinker after another wants to make sure that their portrayal in the notebook, (not so golden this one), will reflect their dynamic, ebullient personality. Like the photographer whose subjects always want to smile for him, Broken Glass is sickened by this false show of success and drowns his sorrows in red wine and riffs on the literature of Africa and the West. Chock-full of life and death, Broken Glass, Mabanckou’s finest novel, published in English for the first time, is a mocking satire on the dangers of artistic integrity.’
You know what I take to be the most exciting from this blurb? The suggestion that the character Broken Glass is going to be providing ‘riffs on the literature of Africa and the West.’ That’s hugely intriguing to me, not least because of Mabanckou’s validated knowledge of African and Western literature. Couple that with the premise of a drunk author (Broken Glass not Mabanckou )) writing about the patrons of the Credit Gone West bar, and I feel this is the makings of a really entertaining novel.
I do have one small niggle before starting to read Broken Glass though. You know how I complained of the lack of punctuation in Prichard’s One Moonlit Night? Well it seems that Broken Glass follows the same mutinous trend. A quick flick through Broken Glass confirmed a distinct lack of capitals, paragraphs and full stops, and when asked by the Guardian about this particular shortcoming, Mabanckou gleefully answered, “I wanted to be a kind of rebel!” Oh No! Here we go again! )…[sigh]…I’ll let you know how I get on reading it!
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Published: February 2009 (UK)
Pages: 165 pages