13 November 2014

Mongo Beti: Trop de soleil tue l'amour (1999)

Alexandre Biyidi Awala (1932–2001) – who wrote as Mongo Beti – was a prominent French African writer. He came from Cameroon and Trop de soleil tue l'amour (lit. 'Too Much Sun Kills Love') is evidently set in a country strongly resembling Cameroon in the 1990s.

Zamakwé (usually called Zam) is a journalist living with his girlfriend Elizabeth (usually called Bébète) in an oppressive, corrupt, violent country under dictatorial rule masquerading as democracy, and which is seen by its opponents as undergoing neo-colonial influence from France. Here, absurdity is the norm and Kafka's shadow looms large.

The language is very slangy, often insulting, and the action is fast. Throughout, references are made to the cinema and this seems to be a strong influence – is Beti some kind of precursor to Tanguy Viel? At the beginning, Zam is deeply upset because his CD jazz collection – which he sees as a personal history – has been stolen*. But that is just the beginning: soon afterwards a dead body is discovered at his home, and then an apartment they retreat to is bombed. On moving again, Zam fears that the new property is bugged. When Zam's boss tries to argue with the police that Zam needs protection, he's just told that what Zam has experienced is normal.

There is no investigation into the dead body at Zam's because the police aren't allowed to carry out investigations because investigations might lead to incriminating a member of the government. So when Bébète disappears, the police are of course not interested and Zam (even though he has called her a prostitute) is heartbroken.

Georges represents the exploitative French element, and when this short fat man is seen together with the tall thin police agent Norbert the reader is encouraged to think of the cinema again and imagine a black and white Laurel and Hardy: even in a regime of torture, political corruption and repression, of paranoia and killing, there is something to laugh at – maybe that makes things more chilling.

But there is really nothing funny about Georges, who has a sweet tooth for young girls. He has previously had a child by Bébète, but his sexual dalliances are increased when he is invited to stay at the luxurious home of Ebénezer, the very symbol of the corrupt regime. Here, Ebenezer encourages Georges to indulge his paedophilic instincts, and his thirteen-year-old niece joins Georges in bed each night.

Clearly, Trop de soleil tue l'amour is a very angry book. Mongo Beti intended to write a trilogy, and there is indeed a second volume: Branle-bas en noir et blanc (2000), but unfortunately he died before finishing the third book.

*Is jazz used here as a representation, or a symbol, of the black condition?

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