«Black Moses» by Alain Mabanckou is one of the outstanding novels from Africa last year. It was longlisted for the Booker Prize. It is a novel that thematises the Marxist-Leninist regime in Congo in the 1970s.
We follow a young boy who grows up in an orphanage in a little coastal town called Pointe Noire. He receives guidance from a local priest and is baptized Moses. From early on Moses is inspired to stand up for the weak in the midst of brutality and lawlessness in his revolutionized country. As the marxist leninists gain power, religious leaders are targeted. One day his beloved mentor priest vanishes. Religion is discarded and the orphanage is suddenly obliged to worship scientific socialism instead.
There is a lot of humour in the descriptions of young Moses, who loves pranks and is curious to the degree. Yet the undertone is serious, showing a country in turmoil that affects every corner and nook of it. There ermerges local tyrants and cheiftain, who assume they are socialism´s true wardeners. One called, Dieudonné takes over the orphanage once gestioned by the by gone priests. More of Moses´loved ones disappear as a mark of their disobediance.
Moses himself elects to flee the orphanage and lead a scruffy existence in the underworld streets of Pointe Noire, stealing food and living in the slum. He teams up with a brothel madam who helps him getting a job. All the while the marxist authorities are trying to clean up crime by bull dozing slums and brothels. Moses sees yet other firends disappear in the ensuing public atrocities.
There is not a low enough place one can run to in this society, because the government is thoroughly anti-human. In the end Moses as a grown man ends up in a prison like camp for mentally disturbed. He is locked away, and it turns out that this is the vantage point from which he has been telling his story.
The symbolism and humour of this book is dark and effective. It helps create awareness of the incredible hardships that Congolose people had to endure just beyond the recent past.
- Feven Melake