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Broken Glass

Broken Glass

4.5 2
by Alain Mabanckou, Helen Stevenson

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Alain Mabanckou’s riotous new novel centers on the patrons of a run-down bar in the Congo. In a country that appears to have forgotten the importance of remembering, a former schoolteacher and bar regular nicknamed Broken Glass has been elected to record their stories for posterity. But Broken Glass fails spectacularly at staying out of trouble as one denizen


Alain Mabanckou’s riotous new novel centers on the patrons of a run-down bar in the Congo. In a country that appears to have forgotten the importance of remembering, a former schoolteacher and bar regular nicknamed Broken Glass has been elected to record their stories for posterity. But Broken Glass fails spectacularly at staying out of trouble as one denizen after another wants to rewrite history in an attempt at making sure his portrayal will properly reflect their exciting and dynamic lives. Despondent over this apparent triumph of self-delusion over self-awareness, Broken Glass drowns his sorrows in red wine and riffs on the great books of Africa and the West. Brimming with life, death, and literary allusions, Broken Glass is Mabanckou’s finest novel — a mocking satire of the dangers of artistic integrity.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in a sad-sack Congolese bar called Credit Gone West, this ingeniously satirical novel by Congolese poet and novelist Mabanckou (African Psycho) creates a microcosm of postcolonial African experience through the tales of sodden bar patrons. Broken Glass, a 64-year-old former teacher who renounced a conventional life for the drinking life, jots down his and others' stories in a notebook given to him by the bar's owner, Stubborn Snail, because “the days when grandmothers reminisced from their deathbeds was gone now.” Broken Glass endures ribald tales by unsavory regulars such as Pampers, a frequenter of the sex district who lands in jail, only to be sexually abused by the inmates. Another fixture, Printer, recounts the convoluted tale of his travels in France, where he married a gorgeous white woman, moved to a Paris suburb “well away from negroes,” and then discovered his wife was sleeping with his visiting son. Mabanckou moves fluidly from story to story, stringing sentences together without periods and settling into a pleasing prose rhythm. Literary allusions (Holden Caulfield has a cameo) and gentle ironies punctuate this wickedly entertaining novel. (June)
From the Publisher


Prix de la Société des poètes français, 1995 • Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire, for his first novel, Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, 1999 • Prix du roman Ouest-France-Etonnants Voyageurs 2005, for Broken Glass • Prix des cinq continents de la francophonie 2005, for Broken Glass • Prix RFO du livre 2005, for Broken Glass • Prix Renaudot 2006, for Memoirs of a Porcupine • Prix de La Rentrée littéraire 2006, for Memoirs of a Porcupine • Prix Aliénor d’Aquitaine 2006, for Memoirs of a Porcupine • Prix Créateurs Sans Frontières 2007 (Ministère français des Affaires Etrangères), for Memoirs of a Porcupine • Médaille de citoyen d’honneur de la ville de Saint-Jean-d’Angély (Charente-Maritime, France), 2004

Praise for the work of Alain Mabanckou

Broken Glass

“Whatever else might be in short supply in the Congo depicted by Alain Mabanckou, imagination and wit aren’t . . . a comic romp . . . Broken Glass is a whistlestop tour of French literature and civilization, and if you don’t know your Marivaux, your Chateaubriand, your ENAs and Weston shoes you’ll miss a lot of the gags (“a quarrel of Brest,” anyone?)—but don’t worry, there are still plenty left. It’s not just French writers who make an appearance. That arch navel-gazer Holden Caulfield . . . has a walk-on part, and Broken Glass ends “we'll meet again, in the other world, Holden, we’ll have a drink together . . . I’ll tell you what they do with the poor little ducks in cold countries during winter time.” Although its cultural and intertextual musings could fuel innumerable doctorates, the real meat of Broken Glass is its comic brio, and Mabanckou’s jokes work the whole spectrum of humour . . . Much of the writing from Africa (or at least most of the stuff we get to see) is of an earnest or grim character, and it makes a pleasant change to encounter a writer who isn’t afraid of a laugh.” —Tibor Fischer, The Guardian

“This is not cute Africa, as described by Alexander McCall Smith . . . Mabanckou is one of Africa’s liveliest and most original voices, and this novel pulses with energy and invention.” —Kate Saunders, The Times (London)

“A dizzying combination of erudition, bawdy humor and linguistic effervescence." —Melissa McClements, Financial Times

“Mabanckou . . . positions himself at the margins, tapping the tradition founded by Celine, Genet and other subversive writers. His bursts of grandiloquent magical realism are a promising approach for a region where realism and naturalism have become blunted in the face of intractable problems. The accompanying humour, too, is welcome. With his sourly comic recollections, Broken Glass makes a fine companion.” —Peter Carty, The Independent

“One of the most entertaining reads of the year . . . another unemployed regular at Credit Gone West, who never once uses a full stop to record these sad but hilarious raw and gritty stories, but who does so in the most readable, enjoyable way that you’re quite bummed when the book ends. Great voice; great reading.” —Barcelona Review

“His voice is original and penetrating, his language irreverent and precise . . . His inventive wordplays, his love of books and his desire to break down clichéd perceptions of African and European literatures and cultures create a world in which every reader will find a home. Broken Glass is an exuberant comic novel, the perfect antidote for those still looking for Africa’s burning libraries.” —Laila Lamali, The National

“Witty, silly, funny and vivid, it is an insouciant novel in the very best sense.” —Jason Weaver, Spike Magazine

African Psycho

“This is Taxi Driver for Africa’s blank generation . . . a deftly ironic Grand Guignol, a pulp fiction vision of Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth” that somehow manages to be both frightening and self-mocking at the same time.” —Time Out New York

“Disturbing—and disturbingly funny.” —New Yorker

“Mabanckou manages to write playfully about an alarming subject.” — Melissa McClements, Financial Times

“A macabre but comical take on a would-be serial killer.” —Vanity Fair

African Psycho, first published in French in 2003, is the auspicious North American debut from a francophone author who most certainly deserves to be discovered. It is smart, stylish and plenty ‘literary’ . . . The French have already called [Mabanckou] a young writer to watch. After this debut, I certainly concur.” —Globe and Mail

“Mabanckou’s novel . . . discovers a fascinating new way to hang readers on those tenterhooks . . . African Psycho presents no gloomy Raskolnikov, nor the fixed sneer of Patrick Bateman, but a haunted burlesque.” —The Believer

“Backly funny . . . this is a distinctive contribution to the slum-fiction genre.” —Sukhdev Sandhu, The New Statesman

“Taut . . . Dark and darkly comic . . . brings into sharp relief the life of an outsider, an anti-hero.” —Laila Lamali, The National

“Alain Mabanckou is like this tree he has evoked in his poetry: Tall, graceful, peaceful, yet a powerhouse of ideas. One of the foremost voices in Francophone literature, this poet-novelist from Congo Brazzaville has always drawn from his African roots.” —Anupama R., The Hindu

“[A] very compelling (and very well-translated) exercise in literary voice.” —Publishers Weekly

Memoirs of a Porcupine

“Mature, shocking, hilarious, innovative.” —Magazine Littéraire

“A wind of change inspires this funny, ironic text stuffed with literary references.”
Le Figaro

“A lively and malicious homage to the world, devilishly spicy . . . A treat, make no mistake about it.” —Télérama

Kirkus Reviews
The award-winning African author (African Psycho, 2007) returns with a novel about Africa and the West. The eponymous hero is a former teacher. He's also the official historian of Credit Gone West, the shabby Congo bar where he spends his days downing red wine and recording stories in the notebook given to him by the bar's owner. This novel is, among other things, an idiosyncratic and raucously impertinent tour of the Western canon, with a particular emphasis on French literature (the subject Mabanckou now teaches at UCLA). The unreliable narrator is, of course, a venerable figure in European and American fiction, especially of the postmodern sort, and the kind of literary brinksmanship that results in a novel that's constructed entirely from very long run-on sentences is also familiar. But such devices feel both fresh and necessary here. The Republic of the Congo-not to be confused with its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo-is, itself, a sort of postmodern state, a rather perilous assemblage cobbled out of a Bantu past and French colonialism, and shaped by civil war and political corruption. It's also worth noting that, unlike many authors who might be called experimental, Mabanckou is funny, and his Rabelaisian riffs are a brilliant counterpoint to the real despair and dysfunction he depicts. Important, entertaining and subtly moving.

Product Details

Soft Skull Press, Inc.
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Meet the Author

One of Africa’s major writers, Alain Mabanckou is the author of six volumes of poetry and six novels, including African Psycho. He currently lives in California, where he teaches French Literature at UCLA. In 2006, he received the prestigious Prix Renaudot for Memoirs of a Porcupine, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press.

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Broken Glass 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Look. First u shouldnt post a secret meeting place in camp where any one can see it. Second off u said u guys ignore stupid rp and then u go around wearing opal necklaces and stuff. Cats dont wear necklaces or if they do its bcause their twolegs made them and they r a kitty pet!(r u a kitty pet?)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago