A review of

African Psycho

by Alain Mabanckou

Central question: Can a tale of rape and murder in an African slum prove zany and life-affirming?
Format: 176 pp., paperback; Size: 8" x 5"; Price: $13.95; Publisher: Soft Skull Press; Translated by: Christine Schwartz Hartley; Name of narrator’s favorite neighborhood bar: “Take and Drink, This Is the Cup of My Blood”; Number of Cuban cigars left smoking in the vaginas of Angoualima’s rape victims: twenty-five; Representative sentence: “Still, it’s weird: every time one of my deeds ends in fiasco, something—I don’t know what exactly—compels me to think about Angoualima, my idol, and, in the first hours of the day, to make for his grave in the cemetery of The-Dead-Who-Are-Not-Allowed-To-Sleep. There I talk to him….”

The man who can murder as an act of vanity! As an act of self-expression! The narrator of African Psycho expresses the pathology this way: “to kill at last, crush… I was going to exist at last, that’s it, exist… I was going to be somebody.” Such a lunatic yearning is familiar in fiction, a trick that goes back at least to Dostoyevsky. Likewise familiar is the challenge before the protagonist. The drama’s in the waffling: will he or won’t he? Alain Mabanckou’s novel, the first of three of his books to appear in English this year (the Congolese author has won a number of prestigious prizes in France, including the Renaudot), discovers a fascinating new way to hang readers on those tenterhooks. African Psycho presents no gloomy Raskolnikov, nor the fixed sneer of Patrick Bateman, but a haunted burlesque.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—John Domini

John Domini (johndomini.com) has two novels coming, Earthquake I.D. this year, and A Tomb on the Periphery next.

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