Life During Wartime, As Seen Through the Eyes of Two Congolese Teenagers
Set amid the chaos of West Africa's civil wars, Emmanuel Dongala's striking new novel tells the story of two teenagers growing up while rival ethnic groups fight for control of their country.
At age sixteen, Johnny is a member of the Death Dealers, a rebel faction bent on seizing power. Even as he is drawn into the rebels' program of terror, Johnny Mad Dog, as he calls himself, retains his youthful exuberance-searching for girls, good times, and adventure. Sixteen-year-old Laokolé, for her part, dreams of finishing high school and becoming an engineer, but as rogue militias prepare to sack the city, she is forced to leave home with her mother and brother-and then finds herself alone and running from the likes of Johnny.
Acclaimed in France, Johnny Mad Dog is a coming-of-age story like no other; Dongala's masterful use of dual narrators makes the novel an unusually vivid and affecting tale of the struggle to survive-and to retain one's humanity-in terrifying times.
Two teenagers are caught up in the melee as rival ethnic factions turn their Congolese city into a bloody battleground in this harrowing novel by Dongala (Little Boys Come from the Stars, etc.). Laokol , a bright girl of 16 who dreams of one day becoming an engineer, flees home ahead of the marauding militias. With her younger brother and legless mother (whom she pushes in a wheelbarrow), she struggles not only to stay alive but to sustain her hopes for the future. Alternate chapters give readers the boastful voice of 15-year-old Johnny Mad Dog, a member of the Death Dealers militia, as he patrols the city with his Uzi, looting, raping and killing, eager to prove himself a man. Dongala, a native of the Congo Republic (formerly French Congo), offers an unflinching look at the greed and ignorance that drives fighters like Mad Dog, as well as the fear, desperation and anger of those trapped in the cross fire. Despite occasional wooden dialogue and the rather stagey showdown between the two narrators, Dongala frames some powerful questions: namely, how humans can be so cruel, and conversely, how do they maintain their humanity in the face of unremitting ugliness? As Mad Dog himself half-marvels, half-laments, "even if we looted them a thousand times, they would always manage to hang onto something."