cover image Jazz and Palm Wine

Jazz and Palm Wine

Emmanuel Dongala, trans. from the French by Dominic Thomas. Indiana Univ., $20 (138p) ISBN 978-0-253-02669-9

Dongala’s striking story collection, originally published in France in 1982, includes political tales set in his native Congo and jazz-themed pieces set in America. The first story, “The Astonishing and Dialectical Downfall of Comrade Kali Tchikati,” follows one man’s journey from strict Marxist-Leninist materialism to acknowledging the power of fetish magic. “Old Likibi’s Trial” examines the push and pull between the same forces, with the trial’s presiding official, Konimboua Zacharie, made to look especially foolish. “A Day in the Life of Augustine Amaya” and “The Ceremony” both concentrate on the crushing inhumanity of the socialist bureaucracy. Scientific socialism permeates all of the tales set in Africa, each of which is full of Marxist-Leninist jargon. The title piece takes a turn into the science-fictional realm when aliens fall to Earth and are enraptured by jazz and palm wine. The final story, “A Love Supreme,” is a personal meditation in praise of John Coltrane. Dongala’s prose can be quite moving, and his writing full of marvelous, lyrical imagery, as when he describes the evening as “those inchoate and fugitive hours when the daylight begins to fade and darkness gradually spreads its cloak.” (Mar.)