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Little Boys Come from the Stars
     

Little Boys Come from the Stars

by Emmanuel Dongala
 

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Sardonic, subtle, and sweetly scathing, Little Boys Come from the Stars is satire at its best. Set in an unnamed country in equatorial Africa, it tells the story of Michel, a precocious teen dubbed Matapari (“trouble”) because of his extraordinary birth. Though his father is a reclusive scholar, his mother a pious though confused Catholic, and

Overview

Sardonic, subtle, and sweetly scathing, Little Boys Come from the Stars is satire at its best. Set in an unnamed country in equatorial Africa, it tells the story of Michel, a precocious teen dubbed Matapari (“trouble”) because of his extraordinary birth. Though his father is a reclusive scholar, his mother a pious though confused Catholic, and his uncle a shameless opportunist determined to gain power in the shifting politics of their post-colonial nation, Matapari remains an unsullied child who wears Reeboks, drinks Coke, reads Japanese comics, and watches Rambo. But when his family becomes the nucleus of the revolution for democracy, Matapari proves to be the ideal narrator for this story of violent upheaval and bloody corruption–a voice whose ironic innocence makes bearable and even humorous the awful realities of the world it describes.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Affecting…in the tradition of post-colonial novels like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.”–The New York Times Book Review

“A whimsical, indeed hilarious satire out of Africa’s decidedly unfunny post-independence woes.”–Los Angeles Times

“Dongala reaches widely and grandly…[and] manages to balance both hope and anger.”–Detroit Free Press

“A funny, touching novel that offers a child’s perspective on power and politics.” –Chicago Tribune

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As far as the 14-year-old hero of this delightful, satirical African novel is concerned, his small Congolese town is the center of the universe. Precocious and mischievous Matapari--a nickname that means "problem child"--comes of age in a time of tumultuous change, witnessing the uneven results of governmental programs (rigged agricultural fairs, ceremonies and speeches) as well as experiencing the joys of childhood and adolescence (Coca-Cola, his first crush). Young Matapari's father, the village teacher, is a distracted man more interested in reading scholarly journals than in day-to-day issues; his mother's brother, Uncle Boula Boula, is a Party flack who rises through the ranks in the postcolonial years. Matapari's often hilarious first-person narrative affords an honest look at the maneuverings and corruption of adults--revealed particularly through their conversations with children. About halfway through, the book veers onto an extended political track, when the government erupts into turmoil: Boula Boula is arrested and subjected to a lengthy sham trial, and Matapari's father leads an uprising for democracy. A wiser Matapari begins to understand the contradictions of the adult world when new, "democratic" candidates campaign in his town. Though Dongala sometimes wedges historical information and family asides into improbable spots, Matapari is an independent, intelligent and enterprising guide who effectively links a country's coming-of-age with his own. His keen and comic voice is refreshing and will appeal to readers interested in a youthful and contemporary African point of view. (Mar.) Forecast: Dongala, a distinguished novelist from the Congo Republic, was evacuated from his war-torn native country and settled in the U.S. with the help of an international group of writers, including Philip Roth. His dramatic history and the dynamism of this novel should garner lively review attention. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Along with The Fire of Origins, recently published by Lawrence Hill, this novel marks the English-language debut of Congolese writer Dongala. Set against the tumultuous political activity of the Congo Republic over the past 20 years, the story describes the coming of age of a boy named Michel, whose nickname, Matapari, literally means "trouble." Over the course of the loosely structured narrative, we watch Matapari and his country undergo the growing pains of independence while we are also made privy to Dongala's satirical take on the ambition, corruption, violence, and downright idiocy of politics and politicians. This is familiar territory, however. In the tradition of Grass and Rushdie--particularly Midnight's Children, to which this bears a conspicuous resemblance--Dongala aims to swallow and then encapsulate the recent history of his beleaguered nation in the life of a young boy. Yet aside from a few brief moments of lyricism and humor, the writing is dull and the plot not that compelling. In addition, the overly pronounced political criticism may seem patronizing to some readers. Recommended only for African literature collections. [Formerly dean of Brazzaville University in the Congo Republic, Dongala fled his country in 1997 and currently lives and teaches in Massachusetts.--Ed.]--Heath Madom, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The transformation of a "continent of sorcerers and fetish makers" into a modern culture is paralleled by the growth to young manhood of a delightful protagonist: a glorious 1998 novel by the native Congolese author (now American citizen) of The Fire of Origins (2000). In a deadpan opening that slyly mocks the pop grandiosity of Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Michel (a.k.a. "Matapari," which means, roughly, "trouble") describes his remarkable birth as an unnoticed triplet who emerged from his mother's womb a day later than his elder twin brothers on the 20th anniversary of his unnamed country's independence. Matapari grows up intellectually curious under the benign influence of his scholarly father, a gentle skeptic; as a would-be "tough guy" inspired by films and TV ("dreaming of being Rambo or Mad Max"); as a well-meaning idealist attracted by both the world of political influence and by the wealth courted by his scheming uncle Boula Boula (a wonderful braggart and trickster who might have stepped out of one of V.S. Naipaul's early novels); and as a devout student of "the books of man and the book of the universe" who's urged on Matapari by his beloved Grandfather. This unfailingly lively and charming tale, filled with boisterous comic episodes, deepens appreciably as it proceeds, when the machineries of "democratization" lead inexorably to violence in the streets, political imprisonment, persecution, and to Matapari's realization that the promises of discovery and healing contained in the texts his father worships will always be interrupted and subverted by men who pursue earthly agendas rather than "the stars." Dongala ends it all memorably, as Matapari'sfamilykeeps a solemn vigil during Grandfather's final illness. A brilliant, many-colored work, and a stunning companion piece to the rather different The Fire of Origins. Dongala may be the most accomplished novelist from Africa since Chinua Achebe.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385721226
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/12/2002
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.17(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.57(d)
Lexile:
1200L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

Sardonic, subtle, and sweetly scathing, Little Boys Come from the Stars is satire at its best. Set in an unnamed country in equatorial Africa, it tells the story of Michel, a precocious teen dubbed Matapari (“trouble”) because of his extraordinary birth. Though his father is a reclusive scholar, his mother a pious though confused Catholic, and his uncle a shameless opportunist determined to gain power in the shifting politics of their post-colonial nation, Matapari remains an unsullied child who wears Reeboks, drinks Coke, reads Japanese comics, and watches Rambo. But when his family becomes the nucleus of the revolution for democracy, Matapari proves to be the ideal narrator for this story of violent upheaval and bloody corruption–a voice whose ironic innocence makes bearable and even humorous the awful realities of the world it describes.

Meet the Author

Emmanuel Dongala was dean of Brazzaville University in the Congo Republic until he fled the country’s civil war in 1997. He lives in western Massachusetts and teaches at Simon’s Rock of Bard College.

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