“You know, a good time is like a piece of sugar cane. Once you have sucked out all the juice and chewed out the sugar, it’s not worth keeping in your mouth. You only get the taste of the tough, coarse fibre and uselessly tire your jaws.” – Henri Lopes, Tribaliks
This book was a real surprise to me. I’d never heard of the author but I picked up the book because I recognized the Heinemann African Writers Series logo on it. And I’m so glad that I did. The Congo is one of the African countries with such intriguing history and I’d never read any literature from there. This is a small book, comprising of nine very engaging short stories set in 1970s Congo, just after Independence.
I liked the political and feminist focus of these stories. I had no idea that Marxism is a large part of Congolese politics, as it was in nearby Mozambique.I found it interesting that the author chose to portray black elites, those educated Congolese who had either been educated in Africa or in Europe. The same elites generally ended up being corrupt and were never truly free from European influence that they tried to rid themselves of during colonialism (it has always astounded me that in Africa businessmen wear full European business suits, even in 40C weather, for example).
Lopes looks at the many issues affecting other African countries; asides from corruption, he also looked at hypocrisy, education, and tribalism. I was happy to see that he included women’s rights in quite a few of his stories:
“Emancipation…had a meaning for women like her mother who walked six miles a day back and forth to the plantation to work the land; women who carried on their backs baskets weighing up to 100 pounds, and whose foreheads were permanently marked by the carrying straps. Many men, after a quarter of a mile, would have collapsed under such a load.”