When on our way back from Międzyzdroje we had to wait in an enormous queue to buy our train tickets, my sister volunteered to take first turn while the rest of us sat on benches in the shadow. When my friend went to relieve her, my sister acted mysteriously, she insisted she didn’t mind queuing and we could just go relax and leave her to it. It was only when we were on the train when she told us that she was eavesdropping on a group of friends who were discussing dramatic events of the night before. Occasionally real life with its unrestrained tales wins over literature because my sister preferred to be listening to their chattering rather than sitting on a bench and reading a book in peace.
Alain Mabanckou captured such free tale-telling in its essence. Broken Glass, the narrator of the novel, has been given a notebook by the owner of the bar he frequents and has been told to immortalise this drinking den for the benefit of the future generations. Broken Glass is not the one to worry about the form. Or punctuation. Or strict plot rules. He writes downs the stories as they come to him and as they are told by the man who wears Pampers, the man who once lived in France or the man who the won the pissing contest. In between all that we also hear Broken Glass’s own story, as sad as any story of a wasted life. Our narrator eventually grows impatient with the task he has been burdened with. With all the stories he is told to write and with all the people and their expectations. As any other writer he questions the point of it all and would probably become an alcoholic if he hadn’t already been one.
At a first sight the narrative looks like chaotic ramblings of a drunkard but under this thin surface there lies a true treasure chest of various literary, popcultural, political and historical allusions. It’s like a wink from the author to the reader which almost bypasses the oblivious narrator. There are so many hidden marvels that an average reader will probably pick up about one third of them. I noticed all the titles of Mario Vargas Llosa’s novels interwoven into Broken Glass’s stream of consciousness. My friend, who studied French studies right away picked up the references to the history of francophone Africa.
I recommend this little number. I enjoyed Mabanckou’s little rebellion against what the world expects from post-colonial African narrative.