For a debut novel, Bola does extremely well in his story telling. The book explores the theme of home in albeit not a new way but in relatable details: he uses the home of a family that keeps expanding in population and home as a refugee in a foreign land.
A production of Pontas Agency and OWN IT! The cover art is depicting the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although, no novice in brilliant use of words, JJ Bola goes an extra mile here, throwing in different languages here and there and producing a ‘hybrid’ book that is unapologetic about its process of production. You get a taste of Lingala, French and English.
The protagonist is clearly Jean but it does not stop the writer from bringing in stories of other characters (most times disturbingly and without warning) into the novel. When he uses Jean, it is about a child growing into adulthood carrying the dream of his father that was aborted to bring him to life and trying to cope with life as an immigrant that is happening too fast to him. When he uses Papa, it is to show the ‘traditional man’ that society has built, who takes the responsibility of the family as his and his alone and is unwilling to unburden himself even through speech. When he uses Mami, it is also to portray the ‘traditional woman’ -church going, silent before her husband, stay at home, charitable at the expense of comfort. Tonton is one of the most interesting characters in the book, though not much of it is dedicated to him, he is just a floating man, letting things happen and pursuing nothing but pleasure.
The introduction of Made’s family drives us deep into the horrors of internal strife in a country like Congo that is still trying to come to grips with the realization that they are to rule themselves and cannot call on Europeans to do the honors instead. Her grandson (sorry for this spoiler) is the only symbol of innocence in the whole of the book because even the pastor failed to live up to this.
Sometime in the middle of the book, it seems Bola is trying to meet up with some word count requirement as the story spirals into areas that the reader would have been just fine not reading in the book but again, some may enjoy these detours. The switching of tales too, from Jean to Papa gets the reader going back to see whose life they are seeing and where they are.
The book is set in Kinshasa and Britain, with some time in Belgium. JJ Bola gives as good as he can and the epilogue is mind throbbing; he unleashes poetry that can make one choke on adjectives to describe the art form.
A well written novel and seeing it is a debut makes it hard to wait for another one.