One of the greatest benefits of literary competitions, the main of course being to spotlight and reward fine novels, is to introduce authors to readers who they might otherwise never have encountered. Alain Mabanckou, the Congolese author now living and teaching in Los Angeles, was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker International Award, awarded every two years for a body of work.
I had never heard of Mabanckou never mind having read one of his books. Yet baby steps of research revealed he’s already received a collection of awards for books like Memoirs of a Porcupine and Blue-White-Red. The Economist called him “Africa’s Samuel Beckett … a subversive.” I tried several usually well-stocked independent bookshops and in the end snatched up the only book I could find, The Lights of Pointe-Noire. Which is a very long way of explaining how I came to spend last weekend, rugged up against the chill winds of a sunny Sydney, falling deeper and deeper in love with The Lights of Pointe-Noire and the writing of Alain Mabanckou. Which in turn led to ordering Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty, a fictionalized account of his childhood in the Congo, but more on that when the book finally arrives.