Francophone writer Alain Mobanckou on the need to promote African literature
With six novels and six anthologies of poetry, Congo-born, LA-dwelling Alain Mabanckou is one of the most fêted of contemporary Francophone writers.
His latest “African Psycho” is the first to be translated into English. Throughout the book, Mabanckou gives insight into the state of affairs in Congo-Brazzaville, including racial tensions and the Congolese media’s knack for hyperbole.
Alain Mobanckou’s writings pose pertinent questions on how an age-old civilisation of Africa looks at the rest of the world through the power of language.
“Since 1980s African literature has gained a wide range of readership, says Mobanckou. “Africa seems less distant now. A large section of books are being written by the Diaspora writers giving rise to literature of immigration.”
Mobanckou began composing poems at an early age. Since his mother tongue does not have a written script he adopted French to communicate his ideas. But he does admit that writing in a language which is alien to one’s culture can be a hindrance at times.
“There are words and expressions in my language which have no exact translation in French. Many times I feel that the meaning is lost when the idea is translated. At such moments I feel frustrated as a writer but I guess it’s a part of my work. Writing in French is certainly a conscious choice because that is how the voice of African people can be taken to a wider world.”
Mobanckou informs, “Writers in Africa who write in French have to be promoted. Works of African writers are not available to the outside world but literary works of writers from the rest of the world are made available in Africa. This certainly is the politics of the publishing houses. We must ask for a global view to promote African literature.”
Asked about how Indian writing has affected him, Mobanckou replies “I have read Tagore’s Gora and have been inspired to use some images in my book ‘Broken Glass’. In my early days of study I did read Gandhi and his theories of non-violence. India and Africa share a common history of being ruled by colonisers. And literature can be a link between peoples of both cultures.”
Throughout his writing career he has always tried to stay connected with his roots.
He remarks “people in Africa recognise themselves in my writing and are astonished about how I describe Africa.”PURVA DHANASHREE