Refugee: A Memoir

Emmanuel Mbolela, trans. from the German by Charlotte Collins. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-24092-9

This sobering account of Mbolela’s migration from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Morocco and eventually to the Netherlands connects the dots between neocolonial capitalism, African kleptocracy and wars, and the inhumane treatment of refugees at nearly every step of their arduous journeys. The son of a successful cattle breeder, Mbolela began his activism while at university in Mbuji-Mayi, in hopes of launching a political career. But when he ran afoul of the ruling powers, he found himself in exile. Traveling from Cameroon to Morocco, he was extorted, forced to sleep out in the open in a migrant settlement, and gaslit by organizations meant to protect refugees. He witnessed even worse atrocities befall the women in his company, and later leveraged his relative privilege to help others, for example using his legal status in the Netherlands to campaign for the rights of undocumented immigrants. Mbolela’s matter-of-fact testimony follows the tradition of Rigoberta Menchú, and, rather than offering artistically rendered scenes to tug heartstrings, he depicts the full brunt of the repetitiveness of atrocity. But, as he writes, “it’s also important to bear in mind how much energy it takes for people to keep on encouraging and sustaining one another, over and over again.” His humility fuels this powerful account, and anyone concerned with the plight of refugees owes it to themselves to pick this up. (Apr.)