cover image The Explosion of the Radiator Hose

The Explosion of the Radiator Hose

Jean Rolin, trans. from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Dalkey Archive, $13.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-56478-632-6

Vaguely about importing an Audi from France to deep in the Congo, this twisted tale becomes a canvas for French journalist Rolin's meditations, counter-histories, and digressions into the literature of colonialism, his first work of fiction to be translated into English. The narration begins as Rolin and his two Congolese companions blow a radiator hose on a desolate stretch of highway just short of their goal, Kinshasa. In addition to faulty mechanics, Rolin's adversaries will include petty thieves who menace the car at every step, bureaucrats in need of bribes, and the sheer absurdity of his quest. Told in small, overlapping fragments, this book is strewn with incidental detail, such as the death of Congolese freedom-fighter Lumumba, the social dynamics of cargo ship crews, and the paranoid theory that French authorities attempt to humiliate African immigrants by overheating the Paris subway. Rolin's snaking, clause-ridden sentences exude an ornery precision, mixing prosaic observations with literary allusion, snide humor, political critique, and personal history. This is a fine, understated novelistic essay only slightly weakened by its hodgepodge structure. (Apr.)