"It all began when I was a teenager, and came to wonder about the name I'd been given by Papa Moupelo, the priest at the orphanage in Loango: Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko. A long name, which in Lingala means 'Thanks be to God, the black Moses is born on the earth of our ancestors', and is still inscribed on my birth certificate today..." (1)
Alan Mabanckou's novel is the story of Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko (Moses). Long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize, Mabanckou tells the tale of Moses, an orphan in the Congo Republic. He escapes the Congo orphanage to Pointe-Noire, where he falls in with thieves, and then leaves them to work for a kind brothel owner. After tragedy befalls her, Moses slowly goes insane.
It was a remarkable story, and I knew little about the dictatorship and revolution in the Congo, but I felt like the first half (when he's in the orphanage) dragged a bit and then I was a bit lost in the second half, as Moses slowly goes insane.
Yet, like many great books, it transported me to a world I did not knew. Mabanckou says “I’m trying to create a world in which it’s going to be like a biography of my city...People in the Congo like that I’m recalling the sea, the street, the prostitutes, the old names of the neighborhood. They want to have that kind of history, because the history of Africa, Francophone history, was written by France. It is not accurate.”
The entire tale of Black Moses is narrated by Moses, looking back on his life from a vantage point you may not (but probably will) see coming. The characters in Moses' life dip in and out — at times, I wanted more closure for some of them (like his childhood best friends, or the thieving twins). A Mark Athitakis of the LA Times writes, 'for all the novel’s humor, Moses himself is a cautionary if not tragic figure. The latter sections of Black Moses turn on his loss of memory and the inability of either neuropsychologists or folk healers to repair the damage done to him. His amnesia might be real, but it’s also a symbol for his cultural condition — stateless, parentless, tribeless, faithless..."