Alain Mabanckou is the world’s most celebrated Francophone African writer and a professor at UCLA. Black Moses, his latest comic novel to be translated into English, tracks the coming of age of an orphan in the author’s Congolese hometown.
Best books... chosen by Alain Mabanckou
The Shameful State by Sony Labou Tansi (Indiana Univ., $20). Tansi’s The Shameful State, originally published in French in 1981, was a novel that had a real impact on my generation, because its author dared to criticize postcolonial dictatorships. Gabriel García Márquez’s influence is tangible in this tale of a despot who rises to power in an unnamed African nation, but the farcical and jubilant tone is truly Congolese.
Jazz and Palm Wine by Emmanuel Dongala (Indiana Univ., $20). Dongala’s sobering yet dazzling stories scrutinize the alienating impact of communism on African countries. They also offer a unique perspective on the 1960s in America and on New York, jazz, and John Coltrane.
The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola (Grove, $17). This 1952 novel, which draws from the Yoruba tradition of oral storytelling, is about the multiplicity of the African voice, with its beliefs, fables, and enchanting qualities. The storyteller is obviously so drunk that the reader can’t help feeling a little intoxicated as well. Tutuola, who died in 1997, remains one of Africa’s greatest writers.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (Harper Perennial, $17). All the secrets of what has become known as “magic realism” are hidden away in this novel. The author starts from the simple story of a family from the fictional village of Macondo; from there, he goes on to recount the story of the whole of humanity.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (Penguin, $11). This novel is one of the finest celebrations of friendship. One cannot help but be moved by Steinbeck’s version of “realism” and simultaneously struck by the poetic qualities of his work. And this in spite of the fact that Of Mice and Men focuses on a drama that, in the middle of the Great Depression, tears apart George and Lennie—two great friends.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (Vintage, $14). Baldwin’s novel is a hymn to sexual freedom, here experienced by two men who fall in love in Paris. Published during the 1950s, the work was deemed scandalous at the time, yet with it Baldwin established himself as one of America’s great authors.