I’m really curious to know the reason behind the choice of the title for the English version (that will be released on June 6th). Indeed I’m pretty sure there’s a wink somewhere for us to see : from the French Petit Piment (literally, ‘little hot pepper’, which is the main character nickname after some… hmm… hot pepper affair, lol) to the English Black Moses (which is the name given by a priest to the MC), we seem to embrace all the different parts of our dear boy, contradictions and all.
Petit Piment relates the life of Moïse, a young Congolese, from his childhood in an orphanage to his adventures in Pointe Noire, Congo’s capital. We follow him during the time when religion becomes forbidden due to the rise of Socialism, and see how his life is impacted by these changes.
I very much enjoyed how refreshing Petit Piment was. Indeed whilst some readers were disappointed that Alain Mabanckou seemed to give the treatment of several serious issues a glossy shine, on the contrary I found his writing incredibly appealing. I savored every tiny piece of the discrete humor used to make fun of – and condemn – the corrupt politics and the violent head of school – which does not mean I merely forgot how unfair and difficult life was for our main character and for some of the other characters.
Moreover, I don’t think for one second that the issues dealt with – slavery, abuse, prostitution, poverty, propaganda, to name a few – have been erased by the irony and the distance with which Moïse portrayed them. At the end of the day, Moïse stays a child trying to understand how to interpret the complicated world around him, he makes mistakes, he often analyzes situations with a certain naivety, but his disapproval is stated pretty clearly. Some parts made me want to throw up – it involves necrophilia and eating cats, so, yeah, brace your heart ; other made me FURIOUS – oh, the hypocrisy! – and I sometimes smiled so big it hurt – I do like my dark humor, thank you.
Why only 3.5 stars, then?
- Well first of all because I rarely felt emotionally invested, not really. I liked Moïse and Bonaventure, but their portrayal often lacked that little something more to make them unforgettable.
- The last 30% made it HARD for me to suspend my disbelief. I can’t go into details, but in my opinion the whole narration crumbled at that time (because hellooo, it doesn’t make any sense given that it’s a 1st POV and narrated from the FUTURE). I did like the ending, though.
Bottom Line : If Petit Piment reads like a farce at times, beware the moment when reality catches up with you, because it hurts. Despite a plot that became a bit nonsensical along the way, Alain Mabanckou convinced me to read his other novels with his compelling writing and the splendid way he wrapped up his story in the end.
Credit for the head pict here