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Demain, j’aurai vingt ans

May 15, 2012

… or tomorrow, I’ll be 20.

This is the book that made me discover Alain Mabanckou.

I first came across the name of the author in an edition of Jeune Afrique, and started reading an extract of Demain, j’aurai 20 ans.  I remember having to read the rest of the piece at home because I could no longer contain my laughter on the bus.  I bought the book a few days later, and save from I do not come to you by chance, I have not laughed so much whilst reading a book.

Demain, j’aurai 20 ans or Tomorrow, I’ll be 20, is the story of the childhood of Michel the 11 year-old narrator in Pointe-Noire, a district in Congo-Brazzaville towards the end of the 70s.

We learn that at his school, they have to learn the speeches of their president “because it is for their own good; because the speeches come directly from God”.  The president was sent by God, they are told (and that is what the president himself affirms) but that is something Michel is dubious about.  In his opinion, “if God had wanted to send someone to be their president, he would have sent Jesus.”  After all, didn’t He send him the first time to save mankind?

He tells us about his parents, Maman Pauline and Papa Roger, and about his uncle, Tonton Rene, who although a Communist and has the portraits of Lenin, Karl Marx and Engels on his walls to prove it and is totally against materialism, possesses a big gated house guarded by a watchman and by Miguel, a very aggressive dog.  And is Tonton Rene trying to cheat Maman Pauline out of her inheritance?

And of course, for a boy standing on the threshold of adolescence, there is the matter of the first love.  Michel’s first love is Caroline, the little sister of Lounes, his best friend.  Caroline, who seems so much more grown-up and mature than him; an “evolved girl” as Maman Pauline calls her.  Caroline, with whom he’s made plans to have 2 children with and buy a red car with 5 seats; the other seat will be reserved for their little white dog.  Caroline, who then goes and fall for Mabele, a grown-up boy who manages to turn her head with Arthur Rimbaud’s poems.  But Michel gets his girl when he tells her about Marcel Pagnol and how he will protect Caroline from everything and live with her in the castles he’s built in his heart for her.

Everybody, say awww!

I loved the naivety with which this love story was told, and I have to say, I greatly enjoyed the naivety and the humour, which pervade the whole book as Michel tells us about the real motive behind the Rumble in the Jungle fight: to make president Mobutu look good in the eyes of the world.  He also tells us how Muhammad Ali won the hearts of the Congolese people and won the fight.  Trust me, the reasons will not be found in any newspaper account of that fight; but that’s why fiction is great.

He paints the propaganda of the Congolese elite, the machinations of Heads of State like Amin and Valery Giscard d’Estaing and the diamond affair, the loss of the sisters he never met, the infertility of Maman Pauline, which he’s blamed for.  How?  I hear you ask.  Read the book, or pester Mr Mabanckou for a translation, because really, can such a masterpiece only be available in French?

 

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5 Comments
  1. I really want to read this now. I think there might be a translation of this in English coming out next year.

  2. It’s a pleasure for me to landing on your blog. I Know my english is not the better but I read the book that you introduce

  3. Renee Woodward permalink

    @Bookshy, you will love it! Totally fab and now that the English translation is coming out (?), I especially loved the last pages which explains the title. If they keep faithful to the French, your heart will break at letting go off the book – Have finished Black Bazar, which was just Laugh Out Loud educative

  4. I’m currently reading the English translation. Been reading it on the bus, train, while waiting for the bus or train and it really is hard not to laugh out loud. I love seeing Congo in the 70s through a little boys eyes.

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