Between Tides by V.Y Mudimbe

Between the tidesSome authors get so totally focused on conveying a message that they seem to forget their novel should also be entertaining. Reading Between Tides by the Congolese author V.Y Mudimbe was impossible to finish as a result.

It’s a novel written from the perspective of Pierre Landu, a black African Catholic priest who is experiencing doubts about his faith. He is struggling to accept that his religion is truly meeting the needs of his countrymen at a time when the country is experiencing a crisis.  Fearing that God is on the side of the colonial oppressors and not on the side of those who seek liberation, he rejects the priesthood to join a Marxist revolutionary force. When the book opens he is undergoing a tough training regime designed to turn him into a Marxist guerrilla and to ‘re-educate’ himself. But his fellow fighters are not convinced by the level of his conviction in their cause. And it becomes clear Landu has his doubts too about this new life he has chosen.

The plot sounded reasonable when I chose it as part of my World Literature project but it became evident within just a few pages that this would be hard going. Between Tides is full of tedious passages of self examination by Landu written in a declamatory style more suited to polemic than fiction.

Weariness. Despondency. Slogans sanctify acts that in other circumstances we might not consider hopeful. How can we accept this pretty patchwork of murderous phrases, hiding their freight of corpses! I would like to hear words that sprang from naked reality!. Once again I measure the gap between them and me. Echoes — which long since ceased to rouse me — fad in my ears; the positive nature of violence, the dialectic of history, the ineluctable application of the historical law of thesis and antithesis. the bloodshed for idealogical purity! The dialectic of the master and the slave. The class struggle.

I don’t want books that are so easy to read they barely tickle my brain cells. But neither do I want to waste my brain trying to get even a glimmer of understanding of what the author means. In the end reading Between Tides became a chore and I just couldn’t continue.

End Notes

Mudimbe was born in the Belgian Congo, formerly called Zaire but now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He entered a monastery in his youth but left it to pursue an academic career looking at the forces that shaped African history. He left the Congo for the USA in 1979, subsequently building a career at  Stanford University and Duke University. Between Tides is the second of his novels to be translated into English. It was awarded the Grand Prize for International Catholic Literature when first published in 1975.


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 September 8, 2015, in African authors, Bookends and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I’ve read books like this. I used to be unable to quit reading once I started. Thankfully I got over that. Better luck next time!

    • I’ve found it easier in the last couple of years to give up on a book – its largely because i have just so many that are still to be read I think why waste my time on this one

  2. sylviemarieheroux

    Well, it may be a bit of a literary experiment… I attended some Mudimbe lectures on Pierre Bourdieu when he was in the Literary Criticism department at Duke University in the early 90s. He is used to dealing with very strange prose…

  3. I really sympathise; I got the ‘message over entertainment’ focus so strongly with Gorky this week. Lets both hope for more enthralling writing with the next book…

  4. Oh dear. Sounds like giving up was the right way to go.

  5. I have come across a couple of books like this before (maybe not quite as bad), but I find that they are often books that I choose from an award list. Deep, thoughtful writing, but not very entertaining.

  6. I’m sure I would have given this up, too. It sounds like a rant.

  7. On the strength of that paragraph I’d have abandoned it too. I can do complex and challenging, but not incomprehensible….

  8. Ugh, that sample paragraph. Who even THINKS like that? I can see why you didn’t want to finish this one.

  1. Pingback: I’ve started so I’ll finish | BookerTalk

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