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Alain Mabanckou. Black Bazar.

Alain Mabanckou. Black Bazar. Paris. Seuil. 2009. 247 pages. 18 [euro]. ISBN 978-2-02-097337-3

Alain Mabanckou's narrators (here as in his recent Verre Casse and Memoires de Porc-Epic) recount their experiences with little self-awareness. In Black Bazar, the narrator is Fessologue; as an illegal immigrant to France he cannot reveal his real name. He is a "bottomologist," a specialist of women's bottoms (fesses). His woman leaves him to go with their child and her lover back to Congo (not the grand Congo, but the little Congo, as Fessologue explains in a tirade against Zaire for having reclaimed the name Congo). He calls her Couleur d'Origine since, although born in France, she has the very dark skin of her Congolese origins. Naive in his relationship with his woman, he says that at least he is not a cuckold, since he never married her.

Fessologue decides to write a book called Black Bazar. He is told by one friend that he cannot become a writer, as he has no story similar to that of The Old Man and the Sea, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Tin Drum, or even The Palm-Wine Drinkard--plots invoked in the prologue--and, besides, Africans did not invent the ballpoint pen. He is encouraged, however, by Louis-Philippe (a reference to a real writer, Dalembert, a friend from Haiti). Fessologue writes his memoirs, describing his unhappy love life; his drinking companions in a bar; and his Arab shopkeeper, who thinks Gaddafi should head an African union, an apartment shared with five other illegal immigrants. He portrays with humor a society in which there is no black community but rather tension between those from the Caribbean and Africa, a society in which everyone hassles, many try to whiten their skins, and no one takes his woman to parties ("you never take a sandwich to a restaurant").

Fessologue is also a sapeur, a Congolese term for elegantly dressed young men, whose Versace jackets and Weston shoes, rather than their color, define their identity; "tell me," he says, "how you tie your necktie and I will tell you who you are." Clothes help the immigrants seduce young French women, a way of creating black babies in France, as a revenge for colonialism.

Finally, however, Fessologue has a new woman, Sarah, half-French, half-Belgian, who encourages him to read Belgian literature, to change his style, even to straighten his hair. He finishes the story of his existence until then, gives Sarah the manuscript to read, and embarks on a new life with her, who also, she remarks, has the color of her origins. Suddenly color doesn't matter.

An ironic portrait of the African community in Paris and how they try to adjust, Black Bazar is amusing and fun to read.

Adele King

Paris
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Author:King, Adele
Publication:World Literature Today
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:459
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