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Mabanckou review

Laila Lalami reviews Alain Mabanckou’s Broken Glass in The National

“In Africa, when an old person dies, a library burns.”

When the Malian writer and ethnologist Amadou Hampâté Bâ uttered these words at a Unesco assembly in 1960, he was attempting to draw attention to Africa’s tradition of oral storytelling. Little did he know that his aphorism would turn into one of the most persistent clichés about the continent, one that unfortunately reinforced the erroneous idea that there was no tradition of written literature in Africa prior to European colonialism. Early on in Alain Mabanckou’s new novel Broken Glass (to be published this month in translation from French to English), the proprietor of a seedy bar in Brazzaville, who is referred to only as Stubborn Snail, hears the slogan and derisively responds that it “depends which old person, don’t talk crap, I only trust what’s written down.”



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