Between Tides by V.Y Mudimbe

Some 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.


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