Monday, September 03, 2012

Reader's Diary #863- Alain Mabanckou, translated by Helen Stevenson: Chez Janette

Back in April, the Guardian featured a short fiction project known as "Oil Stories." It was here that I read Republic of the Congo author Alain Mabanckou's "Chez Janette," translated by Helen Stevenson.

Chez Janette, a bar in the narrator's home country where he has returned after years away, provides the setting. He is there to meet his uncle who fills him in on the civil war and political unrest which had occurred in the nephew's absence. He has heard much of the news before but is content just to hear his uncle talk. And talk he does, giving his opinions on France, the U.S., and how their own fate has been determined and altered based on the foreign interest in oil. It did give me some pause for thought, especially as the uncle seems to think that had they not had any oil, life would be different, possibly better. But then, I thought, Canada has oil and France and the U.S. both have larger militaries. We don't have such interference (not as overt anyway); clearly there are other factors involved.

It was all interesting, I thought, but it seemed more like a thinly disguised essay than a short story. However, when I paid closer attention, I discovered the more story happening around the dialogue. There seemed to be a subtle parallel being made with the women in the background. As the uncle rants against power and exploitation, he seems completely unaware of his own hypocrisy where the opposite gender is concerned. I loved how this second story just sits there waiting to be found. Like undiscovered oil.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Loni said...

Sounds like a fascinating story.

I read a whole book that I wanted to share this week.

Teddy Rose said...

Sometimes the back story is the better story. Sounds worthwhile. I forgot to stop by yesterday. I reviewed another Gore Vidal: