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The Critical Flame on Mabanckou's "Broken Glass"

The new issue of The Critical Flame is now available online, complete with a piece by editor/founder Dan Pritchard on Internet Book Reviews (through the lens of an internet review of the Open Letters Monthly anthology of internet book reviews), and an interesting piece by Katherine Evans on Alain Mabanckou’s Broken Glass (a book that we tried to acquire for Open Letter). This is an extremely funny book, very voice driven, fairly manic. Here’s Evans’s description:

Broken Glass is narrated from the perspective of its title character, an ex-teacher with too great a love for Congolese palm wine. He now spends his days with the cast of characters who frequent the bar Credit Gone West. Stubborn Snail, the owner of the bar, has given former aspiring author Broken Glass a notebook in which to record the life and stories of his bar. This task is not particularly challenging. The diverse group that frequents Credit Gone West is all too eager to share their stories of heartbreak, ruin, and destruction as soon as they learn of the project. These stories, recorded and interpreted by Broken Glass, fill most of the novel and stand alongside their author’s musings on his own life and the community he now inhabits. [. . .]

This passage is indicative of the novel’s irreverent style and reveals Mabanckou as the rare kind of writer who can incorporate high literary allusions as well as bawdy humor. Mabanckou draws heavily on his predecessors as he pursues this project, and it is perhaps one of the most notable characteristics of Broken Glass that it is absolutely littered with literary allusions. French writers from Rimbaud to Chateaubriand find good representation in the pages of Broken Glass. These references, which also encompass a full range of world literature, are rarely more than passing allusions, as demonstrated in a particularly loaded passage that brings to light the sheer diversity of writers referenced in Mabanckou’s work:

“yes, I really must go, and travel northwards, and experience the highest solitude, see the diverted river, and live in the big house filled with the light of an African summer, and leave this continent, to discover other hot countries, and live one hundred years of solitude, adventures and discovery in a village called Macondo, fall under the spell of a character called Melquides, and listen entranced to tales of love, madness, and death… I must cast my net across the entire continent of Europe, so dear to our friend the Printer, I the outsider, the rebel, the approximate man, I was just behind a guy called Doctor Zhivago who walked through the snow”

Evans does pick at some of the flaws with this book—“many of his stylistic innovations are inconsistent and occasionally fall flat”—but nevertheless, this is a pretty even handed review and makes me really want to reread the book . . . (And African Psycho, which is pretty amazing as well.)



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