Author: Alain Mabanckou
Translator: Helen Stevenson
Publisher: Serpents Tail
Year of publication: 2005 (French), 2009 ( English)
Number of pages: 165
Broken Glass is a book by Alain Mabanckou an author from the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville) who has written a raft of books including African Psycho (2003 French, 2009 English), Memoirs of a Porcupine, (2006 French, English 2007) and many many more. That guys has some of the best output you can get for books around since his first book in 1998. As you can tell, this author writes in French and then his books are translated by kind folks for those of us who cannot understand the other African language.
Broken Glass is a gentleman who is a regular in at the Credit Gone West pub in Brazzaville who is challenged by its owner Stubborn Snail to write a story about his favourite haunt. Stubborn Snail had to work to set up the pub and he fells that Broken Glass is up to the task of immortalising it.
Broken Glass goes about his task with gusto as he talks about the challenges that the pub went through to get to be a running enterprise. Stubborn Snail got the idea of the pub when he was in Douala, Cameroon and he decided that he wants to try something in his home town. As soon as he opens for business the drama begins; it is alleged that men are being stolen from their homes by this new place. Thus a long battle with the community from the women to the church and the battle goes all the way to the head of state. The leadership eventually gives the pub the right to run because “the minister accuses and the president understands.” Its a part of the narrative you need to read; I won’t ruin it for you.
The story then goes on to explain the story of people like guy who wears pampers all the time, the guy who lived in France aka the Printer and crazy Diabolica. The writer even goes as far as to give his tale as a teacher who was fired because of his alcoholic tendency and the battle his wife went through to get him leave Credit Gone West. She gave her best even going as far as taking him to a witchdoctor but he would not leave his beloved bar won. In a nutshell, it is a story of bar.
I loved this book. A hell of a lot. Lets start with what I didn’t like though. In the whole 165 pages you will not encounter one single full stop. None. I kid you not. You might think that this is simple but after running out of mental breath I was forced to learn how to get my own full stops. Eventually I got in the flow and got over my punctuation hang up.
Even without the full stops, when you get into the system this is a great book to read. The thing is that even with the amount of time my contemporaries spend in bars there is very little in popular culture about the whole process. There was that old TV show Cheers with that Ted Tanson and Shelley Chambers that showed a US city bar that I can compare that with. Or that column in the Nairobian newspaper quarter pager. Then there is my weekly pub review that I give for the Star newspaper in my Nairobi Living column.
Apart from these little spaces, there is are very few stories told about the experience of drinking and this Mabanckou guy gets the description of our drinking lives in this little masterpiece.
Yes. That prose. Its like eating some delicious little tit bits of heaven and you can find these throughout the book. In fact if you take the challenge you can find titles of over 170 titles of classic literature in it; I didn’t do it so my experience was just the sweet prose.
Then there are his characters. This guy forms this wholly flawed men and women and he makes you empathise with them deeply. These are some of the best characters that I have seen on recent times.
Did I forget to mention this book is hella hilarious? It is. Very much.
Whats even crazier is that the book is translated. While I recognise the skill of Helen Stevenson in bringing this book to life I am a bit jealous of those who can read them in the original. It must be off the hook!
So do I recommend that you buy the book? Hell year. I got my copy at Bookstop Nairobi. If you can’t get it at your local bookstore then try Amazon. You will not regret it.