1 April 2016

Alain Mabanckou: Black Bazar | Black Bazaar (2009)

Black Bazar (translated, unsurprisingly, into English as Black Bazaar) is about a black dandy from the Republic of the Congo who lives in a hovel in the 18th arrondissement, but who spends most of the money he earns on clothes, external things, and spends a deal of his time at the café Jip's in the 1st arrondissement, which may well remind readers of the bar in Mabanckou's earlier novel Verre Cassé. The café is frequented by a group of interesting characters such as Pierrot Le Blanc and Roger Le Franco-Ivoirien, and the narrator goes there to talk and drink Pelforth.

The narrator is only known by his nickname Fessologue, after the neologism fessologie, the study of (women's) 'faces B', or 'B sides'. The expression 'B sides' comes from the flipsides of vinyl discs which used to swing, like women's backsides, and Fessologue is an expert on those, always visually investigating them. He says 'The science of backsides has existed since the world began, when Adam and Eve turned their backs on the Lord.'

Fessologue called his former partner (by whom he has a child) Couleur d'origine: she has her origins in the Congo too, although she was born in France, but retains her 'colour of origin': colour is significant in the book, as well as buttocks, such as the narrator's implied criticism of blacks using whitening products. But Couleur d'origine walks out on him with their child, into the life of l'Hybide, a tam-tam player.

Books are important in this novel too, and many of them are mentioned, such as some by Louis-Philippe, who's from Haiti, who Fessologue meets at a book-signing session, and who is actually Louis-Philippe Dalembert, although his surname is never given here. Fessologue starts reading in earnest, and is now writing too, a book called 'Black Bazar'. He's bought a typewriter and writes everywhere he goes about his life, the things he does, the people he meets, the conversations he has, his Arab grocer opposite, Hippocrate the tenant from Martinique who thinks he's a concierge and is always watching him and complaining about cooking smells, etc.

And along comes Sarah, a Franco-Belgian girl with fine buttocks, who introduces Fessologue to Belgian culture, such as the Goncourt-winning Béatrix Beck's Léon Morin, prêtre (1952). She reads Fessologue's novel and says: 'I was waiting for you to finally finish your book to tell you that I'd like you to come and live with me.'

Highly readable.

My other posts on Alain Mabanckou:

Alain Mabanckou: Verre Cassé | Broken Glass
Alain Mabanckou: Mémoires de porc-épic | Memoirs of a Porcupine
Alain Mabanckou: Lettre à Jimmy | Letter to Jimmy


David Bingham said...

Ahhh, now I know where this lot got their name from; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU-wrssKVEI

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Fessologue would love that ass-wiggling! I wasn't aware of this band, least of all that Alain Mabanckou produced the album: http://www.marianne.net/sono-mondiale/Quand-la-rumba-nous-ambiance-les-oreilles-avec-Black-Bazar-et-les-yeux-avec-les-Sapeurs-d-Hector-Mediavilla_a8.html

David Bingham said...

Just finished the English translation (Fessologue is called Buttologist....surely not everything has to be translated?). I really enjoyed it - 'African Psycho' next maybe.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Huh, that's a wincingly bad example of over-translation, which even introduces an element of slang that doesn't exist in the original.

Yes, oddly, I've not yet got round to reading Mabanckou's black take on Bret Easton Ellis.