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Black möse

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Black Möse

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Moses enters his teenage years in an orphanage as a government with a pan-African socialist message assumes power in the Republic of Congo. He escapes from the orphanage to wander along with a gang of fellow orphans, and then by himself, on the streets of the city of Pointe-Noire. Moses does his best to live up to his name.

Mein Alter 45

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A Congolese orphan struggles to escape desperate circumstances in a novel whose ebullient humour has an undertow of grief. A lain Mabanckou, a writer of ferocious wit and fearless inventiveness, has won acclaim for novels such as Broken GlassAfrican Psycho and Black Bazaarwhich span the Congo-Brazzaville of his birth and the black communities of Paris, where he moved in The memoir The Lights of Pointe-Noire was one fruit of that bittersweet return.

His latest novel, Petit Pimentwhich was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourtis another. The eponymous narrator of this picaresque tour-de-force is an inmate at an orphanage on the outskirts of Pointe-Noire. Though his destiny as a saviour is uncertain, Moses stands up for the weak.

Next to disappear is his mother-substitute, Sabine, whose father was a Cuban soldier — one of 5, sent by Fidel Castro to next-door Angola. So you cross the line, you offer your body to a passerby. Seeking his support for their illegitimate son, she had found herself in court for unpaid bills, with her light and water cut off.

The litany of loss and injustice sends Moses, by now nearing 40, towards madness. Yet fired — like all Mabanckou heroes — by his reading of books, he dons a green hood, sewn by Malian tailors, in emulation of Robin Hood, and resolves to act.

Yet there is also a touching personal homage in this retelling of the lives of some of those unable to escape the asylum. Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou review — a picaresque tour-de-force.

Litany of loss and injustice … Pointe-Noire in Congo-Brazzaville. Photograph: Alamy.

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