The “heart-breaking” (New York Times Book Review), rollicking, award-winning novel that has been described as “Oliver Twist in 1970s Africa” (Les Inrockuptibles)
“One of the most compelling books you’ll read in any language this year.” —Rolling Stone
Winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award
Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize
Shortlisted for the Albertine Prize
Shortlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize
Longlisted for the PEN Translation Prize
Greeted with wildly enthusiastic reviews on publication, Alain Mabanckou’s riotous novel begins in an orphanage in 1970s Congo-Brazzaville run by a malicious political stooge who makes the life of our hero, Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko—his name means “Let us thank God, the black Moses is born on the lands of the ancestors,” but most people just call him Moses—very difficult.
Moses is also terrorized by his two fellow orphans—the twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala—but after Moses exacts revenge on them by lacing their food with hot pepper, the twins take Moses under their wing, escape the orphanage, and move to the bustling port town of Pointe-Noire, where they form a gang that survives on petty theft.
What follows is a “pointed” (Los Angeles Times), “vivid and funny” (New York Times), larger-than-life tale that chronicles Moses’s ultimately tragic journey through the Pointe-Noire underworld and the politically repressive reality of Congo-Brazzaville in the 1970s and ’80s.
“Ringing with beautiful poetry,” (Wall Street Journal) Black Moses is a vital new extension of Mabanckou’s cycle of Pointe-Noire novels that stand out as one of the grandest and funniest fictional projects of our time.
A small book with a big narrative voice, this wacky new novel by Mabanckou follows the existential misfortunes of an orphan whose "kilometrically extended name" means "Thanks be to God, the black Moses is born on the earth of our ancestors." Things were always bad for Moses at the orphanage in Loango, a place full of corrupt and unscrupulous administrators who treat children "no better than cattle." But after the orphanage's director and his cronies, all relatives, change allegiance as the socialist revolution takes over the Congo, Moses decides to escape to the city of Pointe-Noire with the twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala. They agree to let him join them and give him the nickname Little Pepper when he spikes their food with chilis. The sordid streets of the city offer few better opportunities, however, and in colorful, weird prose, Moses recounts his few triumphs and many travails. His fellow escapees form a gang of petty thieves, but at 16, Moses is taken in by a kindly Zairian madam called Maman Fiat 500, who with her employees, "ten girls, each more beautiful than the last" provides him with the only family he will ever know. Moses ages quickly, spiraling into madness and forgetting. He wishes to become his own hero, Robin Hood, but he more closely resembles Don Quixote, eventually striking out on a last noble and violent quest worthy of his long name. This mythic, beguiling novel is a journey to discover what is hard-wired in us and what we make up about ourselves.