#6degrees from the Congo to Uganda via a few bars

It’s time to play the Six Degrees of Separation game again. The starting book this month is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I know it was highly regarded when it was published but I didn’t care for it that much. However I read it so long ago I can’t remember exactly why it didn’t hit the spot, just that it didn’t. Maybe if I read it again I might have a different reaction (that often happens) but I have far too many unread titles to go down that path.

Kingsolver’s novel features a family who go to The Congo as missionaries intent on converting the local population. This was at a time before there were two countries both using the word Congo in their name. Today we have the the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southeast and its smaller namesake, the Republic of the Congo. It’s to the latter that we go for my first link…

broken glass

Alain Mabanckou’s Broken Glass is set in a seedy bar in a run down part of the country’s capital. One of its regular customers, a disgraced teacher is asked by the proprietor of the Credit Gone West bar to capture the stories of his clients. They turn out to be a misfortunate bunch all thinking they have been hard done by and wanting to set the record straight.

 

old-devilsThey’re not unlike some of the characters in Kingsley Amis’ Booker Prize winning novel The Old Devils. This lot are university pals living in a rural part of Wales and, having been regular drinkers in the past, like to spend their time in the pub. Their hostelry of choice is called The Bible and its here that they meet, often not long after breakfast, to while away the hours with gossip, updates on their various medical ailments and generally complaining about almost everything.

thedevilinthemarshalseaantoniahodgsonThey might have more justification for their complaints if they  were inmates of the place which is the setting for my next book in the chain: The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson. The Marshalsea is a fetid, stinking prison for debtors – once in, unless you have private means to pay for ‘luxuries’, you end up in the worst section, the “Common Side” where death is inevitable.

English authors

Fortunate then the man who can find a way out of this as does Charles Dickens’ Mr Dorrit. In Little Dorrit, her father William gets his escape ticket when it’s discovered he is the lost heir to a large fortune. Dickens uses this novel to satirise the  bureaucracy of government (brought to life in the form of his fictional “Circumlocution Office”). He also takes a pop at the class system and its notions of respectability.

NW

A desire for respectability also makes its appearance through two childhood friends in Zadie Smith’s novel NW.  To leave behind her black working class upbringing, one girl changes her name, becomes a successful barrister and moves to a plush home in a desirable part of London. Her friend has less success, though she has a degree in philosophy she is still living in a council flat not far from her family home. But their past refuses to remain hidden.

Allournames

Identity is the theme of my sixth and final book, one that I bought on my first trip to the Hay Festival and so caught up in the moment that I came away with an armload of books by authors completely unknown to me. Fortunately, one of the them, All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu proved to be a thought-provoking book.  An African boy arrives in a mid Western USA town on a student visa. Little is known about him, only his name, his date of birth and the fact he was born somewhere in Africa. But he’s a fake, a boy who escaped from a civil war in Uganda by swapping identities with a friend who becomes a paramilitary leader.

And so we end as we began in Africa. Along the way we’ve visited a few bars, a prison and a suburb of London. As always I have included only books I have read.

Where would your chain take you? You can join in by visiting  Books Are My Favourite and Best 

 

 

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on May 6, 2018, in Six Degrees of Separation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Sorry I’m late to your post. Life is so busy. Loved your chain, partly because nearly all the books interest me to read, particularly the first one.

    BTW Someone commenting on my blog said she didn’t like The Poisonwood Bible either. She said it was the earnestness of it. I get that with Kingsolver, though I did like the book.

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  2. I have not read Alain Mabanckou [no l by the way], but I listened to him when he was invited at a literary program on French TV

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  3. I do enjoy this meme. I’ve tried some Barbara Kingsolver novels and just can’t get into them. So many of my friends adore her (and Poisonwood is a top favorite). Oh well, perhaps I’ll try her again in the future.

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  4. Poisonwood Bible was such a blockbuster I didn’t think anyone was allowed to not like it 😉 Some fun connections you made.

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  5. This is a great chain. So nice to see Dickens get a run!
    Mabanckou is on my wishlist (a tempting review from Stu, was it?) but I like the sound of All Our Names too.

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  6. Enjoyed your chain! Goodness, I haven’t read any of these this month, not even the Dickens which for years I thought I had read but have recently realised from reading people’s reviews of it that I haven’t. Must rectify that! I’d also like to read The Poisonwood Bible at some point, and I really must read Kingsley Amis – what a gap! So you’ve been bad for my TBR this month, but I forgive you… 😉

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  7. An interesting selection of books To interlink

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  8. You made it, and some great links too. I enjoyed both the Mabanckou and the Mengestu but couldn’t get on with London NW.

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