Book: Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty
Book Author: Alain Mabanckou
Michel is a 10 year old carefree sweetheart who simply wants to grow up in peace, eat his favourite beans and beef on weekends with his parents, have a great time with his other seven brothers and sisters from his step-mother, Mama Martine, watch planes land with his best friend Lounes while guessing the cities they are landing in and live happily ever after with the love of his life Caroline, their children, a white dog and a red 5 seater car of course. In Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty, Mabanckou paints the reality of what it means to grow up and live in the social and political climate of Congo Brazzaville through the eyes of a child that goes on to be an endearing and memorable character and in doing so leaves us with a yarn well spun with his signature tongue-in-cheek, droll narrative.
Point Noire, Congo in the 1970s is a communist state; the President is also the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, another dead president is known ‘The Immortal’, kids in school are members of The National Pioneer Movement who recite the four articles of the law of the Pioneer movement before they are allowed into class, Michel gets the same gifts of a plastic lorry, spade and a rake from his communist uncle Rene every year on his birthday so he can play at being a farmer because the real revolution of the country will come from the peasants who truly love the land. Uncle Rene the communist berates the capitalists of the world who are the reason why the wretched of the earth get poorer, adores and gives long lectures on Karl Marx, Engels and Lenin who are his communist heroes. He is also one of the wealthiest men in Point Noire with a mansion and cars that he changes every six months.
Michel’s worldview is however not limited to the small town he lives in, thanks to the stories of the Voice of America he listens to on his father’s radio which is a gift from his foreign employers, and his father’s accompanying political commentary, he is also very up to date on the travails of the Shah of Iran, the atrocities of the Ugandan President Idi-Amin and the conflicts in Cambodia.
Michel however has troubles of his own, Caroline leaves him for Mabele who writes her poetry and has read books by Marcel Pagnol; he believes the ranking system in his school is a tad unfair, his big step-brother Yaya Gaston keeps breaking the heart of Genevieve who is Michel’s favourite of all his beaus and there is also the problem of his parents who are trying to have another child and a fetish has convinced them that Michel has locked his mother’s womb with a key and so they have to please him with gifts so he can give them the key.
In the world through Michel’s eyes, nothing comes off as too fantastic. Ousmane’s magical mirror that makes pedestrians die in front of his shop at least once a month, street fights that turn into mini carnivals, football matches where teams outwit themselves with not only soccer skills but also superior fetishes and where daring dancers levitate themselves above 10 centimetres off the ground. Alain Mabanckou has created an endearing world and a character who is truly memorable in the way he tugs at the reader’s heart while dropping social and political commentary subtly and without an ounce of being overbearing. This is a gem of a book.