NYS Writers Institute, Thursday, February 15, 2001
4:00 p.m. Seminar | Humanities 354, Uptown Campus
8:00 p.m. Reading | Assmelby Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Center
African novelist Emmanuel Dongala and his family abandoned their home in Brazzaville, Congo Republic in the wake of civil war. "[It] was more horrible than I could have imagined as a novelist," he told a New York Times interviewer. Rival militias bombarded residential neighborhoods, reducing them to rubble, and shot civilians at random in the streets. 10,000 people were killed according to official estimates, but Dongala believes the number to be much higher. 120,000 of his countrymen fled to seek shelter in the equatorial rainforests.
Dongala, a professor of chemistry and dean of Brazzaville's university, was luckier. Educated in the United States and a frequent visitor to this country, Dongala had formed a friendship with, among others, novelist Philip Roth. Roth helped him secure a visiting professorship in chemistry at Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, MA, where he relocated with his family.
Dongala's two most recent novels, Little Boys Come From the Stars (1998) and The Fire of Origin (1987, Englist translation 2000, Lawrence Hill Books, ISBN 1-55652-420-X) have been translated into English from the original French, and are due to be released in the U.S. in 2001. The Fires of Origins, which tells the story of a mythic individual named Mankuku "the Destroyer," received the Grand Prix d'Afrique Noire and the Grand Prix de la Fondation de France. French newspaper La Marseillaise called it "A stunning novel. . ." and said "The art of Emmanuel Dongala is extreme. . .this novel, which plunges into the heart of reality, becomes lengend."
Little Boys Come From the Stars tells the story of Matapari, a modern African teenager who wears American sneakers and participates in the transglobal pop culture that has taken over the Third World. Matapari, whose perspectives is at once knowing and innocent, serves the reader as a satirical interpreter of Congolese history.
In recognition of his literary work, Emmanuel Dongala was appointed a "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettre" by the French Ministry of Culture. Ironically, despite this high honor, the French government refused Dongala's application for a visa when he sought asylum for his family.
Dongala is always careful to stress in interviews that he is not a political exile, a fact that differentiates him from many other well-known African authors. "I did not suffer because I was a writer or an intellectual," he told the Times, "I suffered like everybody did [during the civil war] because the rockets we call 'Stalin's organs' kept firing on our house, because anarchy spread and children with machine guns took what they wanted. It was not ideological."
"A great African novel: inspired yet sober, wide-ranging yet written concisely, purely, without a superfluous word. . .a human history of an entire continent." - La Suisse on The Fire of Origins
Additional Link: Writers Online Magazine Article
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