Place: Congo

Translation Tuesday: Excerpt from Alain Mabanckou’s The Lights of Pointe-Noire

Read an excerpt from the 2016 French Voices Grand Prize-winning memoir, out today in bookstores!

My father was a small man, two heads shorter than my mother. It was almost comic, seeing them walking together, him in front, her behind, or kissing, with him standing up on tiptoe to reach. To me he seemed like a giant, just like the characters I admired in comic strips, and my secret ambition was one day to be as tall as him, convinced that there was no way I could overtake him, since he had reached the upper limit of all possible human growth. I realised he wasn’t very tall only when I reached his height, around thetime I started at the Trois Glorieuses secondary school. I could look him straight in the eye now, without raising my head and waiting for him to stoop down towards me. Around this timeI stopped making fun of dwarves and other people afflicted by growth deficiency. Sniggering at them would have meant offending my father. Thanks to Papa Roger’s size I learned to accept that the world was made of all sorts: small people, big people, fat people, thin people.

He was often dressed in a light brown suit, even when it was boiling hot, no doubt because of his position as receptionist at the Victory Palace Hotel, which required him to turn out in his Sunday best. He always carried his briefcase tucked into his armpit, making him look like the ticket collectors on the railways, the ones we dreaded meeting on the way to school when we rode the little ‘workers’ train’, without a ticket. They would slap you a couple of times about the head to teach you a lesson, then throw you off the moving train. The workers’ train was generally reserved for railway employees, or those who worked at the maritime port. But to make it more profitable, the Chemin de fer Congo-Océan (CFCO) had opened it to the public, in particular to the pupils of the Trois Glorieuses and the Karl Marx Lycée, on condition they carried a valid ticket. As a result they became seasoned fare dodgers, riding on the train top, in peril of their lives. It was quite spectacular, like watchingFear in the City at the Cinema Rex, to see an inspector pursuing a pupil between the cars, then across the top of the train… READ MORE…