cover image Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament

Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament

In Koli Jean Bofane, trans. from the French by Marjolijn de Jager. Indiana Univ., $20 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-253-03190-7

Bofane’s kaleidoscopic novel of contemporary Congo never quite settles; it ricochets between the members of its varied cast and their respective victimizations. Isookanga, the heir of a pygmy chief, yearns for more modernity than his small village can provide. Relocating to Kinshasa, he meets a wide range of people trying to cope in the wake of Congo’s lurching recovery from colonialism. Isookanga flits between ambitious machinations: a water-selling business with a Chinese patsy abandoned in the Congo, a riot with a street gang of children, and a plot to help the overseer of a national park exploit its mineral wealth. Bofane’s tendency to provide the backstory of each character and others associated with them presents a confusing, diffuse structure. Stories of boy soldiers, sexual violence, unscrupulous developers, and failed government never fully coalesce. The satirical jabs at, for example, the pyramid scheme masquerading as the Church of Divine Multiplication or the UN functionary who frequents a child prostitute offer some black humor. The difficult style and painful depictions will put off some readers, but this scalding indictment of Western interference in Africa should give proponents of pell-mell progress pause. (Jan.)