“Terrifying . . . Emmanuel Dongala grabs us from the start with a language that is rude and raw (Mad Dog's) and lyrical (Laokolé's). . . . He continues to vividly re-create his burning piece of earth.” The New York Times Book Review
“The manner in which Dongala juxtaposes these two characters' experiences explains more about these wars than most news stories ever could . . . Dongala's fast-paced, irreverent style makes the novel a memorable, thoroughly enjoyable read.” The Boston Globe
“Not only does [Dongala] show the terror, he shows the absurdity, the banality, even the cruel humor, [and] takes swipes at Western relief workers, UN troops, the international media, and 'political experts' who continue to recycle the same story from Africa's war zones.” Anderson Tepper, The Washington Post Book World
“Stark, blackly comic . . . In Laokolé and Mad Dog, Emmanuel Dongala gives us two equally extraordinary portraits of [his characters' brains].” Associated Press
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While West Africa burns under the onslaught of warring rebel factions, two teenagers, their stories forming twin narratives, struggle to survive in very different ways. Johnny Mad Dog, as he calls himself, is 16 and as familiar with his Kalashnikov as he is with the more typically boyish pursuits of girls, music, and partying. Determined to seize power from the existing government, he and his fellow soldiers leave behind a trail of murder, rape, and looting. In dramatic counterpoint, 16-old Laokolé, bookish and thoughtful, dreams of becoming an engineer and constructing buildings as high as the tallest trees. After her father is murdered and her mother is left crippled during a raid, Laokolé is forced to flee as Johnny Mad Dog and his Death Dealers invade their village. Separated from her family, with nothing but memories of violence too gruesome to recall, she must find the courage and hope to go on living.
A novel of palpable power and sharp effect, Johnny Mad Dog is a very different coming-of-age story -- one set against the backdrop of terrifying times and told through the unforgettable voices of two teenagers who witnessed it. Dongala has held a mirror to our world, and the result is a novel of penetrating insight and heartbreaking resonance.
(Fall 2005 Selection)
Two teenagers are caught up in the melee as rival ethnic factions turn their Congolese city into a bloody battleground in this harrowing novel by Dongala (Little Boys Come from the Stars, etc.). LaokolE, a bright girl of 16 who dreams of one day becoming an engineer, flees home ahead of the marauding militias. With her younger brother and legless mother (whom she pushes in a wheelbarrow), she struggles not only to stay alive but to sustain her hopes for the future. Alternate chapters give readers the boastful voice of 15-year-old Johnny Mad Dog, a member of the Death Dealers militia, as he patrols the city with his Uzi, looting, raping and killing, eager to prove himself a man. Dongala, a native of the Congo Republic (formerly French Congo), offers an unflinching look at the greed and ignorance that drives fighters like Mad Dog, as well as the fear, desperation and anger of those trapped in the cross fire. Despite occasional wooden dialogue and the rather stagey showdown between the two narrators, Dongala frames some powerful questions: namely, how humans can be so cruel, and conversely, how do they maintain their humanity in the face of unremitting ugliness? As Mad Dog himself half-marvels, half-laments, even if we looted them a thousand times, they would always manage to hang onto something. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The native Congolese author, now Massachusetts-based, writes of civil war and its attendant atrocities. Unlike Dongala's subtly woven The Fire of Origins (2002) and Little Boys Come from the Stars (2001), his latest offers a simplistic contrast of innocence with rampant amorality. It's set in an unnamed West African nation where forces representing the Mayi-Dogo and Dogo-Mayi tribes struggle to annihilate one another, aided by mercenaries from various countries, though the fighting is entrusted largely to laxly trained "militias" whose main "political" objectives are rape and looting. One such force, the Mata-Matas (aka "Roaring Tigers"), flounders under the leadership of strutting thug General Giap, who has inexplicably delegated major responsibilities to the eponymous Johnny, a teenaged brute who assumes several resonant noms de guerre before settling on "Mad Dog," and who narrates his murderous misadventures in vainglorious accents, all the while assuring us that he's an unparalleled intellectual, heroic freedom fighter and sexual athlete. Mad Dog's narrative is juxtaposed with that of Laokole, a valiant 16-year-old refugee who flees the carnage with her multiple amputee "Mama" and younger brother Fofo. She (a would-be engineer) is the "intellectual" that Johnny claims to be-and it becomes apparent that Dongala is setting the two on a collision course, as Laokole finds temporary sanctuary in a U.N. embassy building, loses all her loved ones and finally reaches an embattled village, where (in a painfully unconvincing climactic scene) she and Mad Dog face off, lethal violence ensues and, as their country smolders, the stars overhead wheel silently and indifferently in their courses. Onerespects this earnest tale's passion and indignation, but little else. Johnny is a posturing monster, Laokole a stoical saint, and every action and thought of each is reduced to melodramatic cliche. The result is an all-too-credible horror story, but not a good novel.