Serpent's Tail, £8.99
Black Bazaar, By Alain Mabenckou (trans. Sarah Ardizzone)
A bar in Les Halles proves the perfect vantage-point for a comic and touching view of migrant life
Buttologist, so named because of his fixation with women's backsides, lives in a tiny studio in Paris. It's not ideal but better than the cramped dormitory he shared with four compatriots when he arrived in France with a fake ID 15 years ago. Originally from Brazzaville Congo, Buttologist now works as a packer for a printing works and hangs out with his friends at Jip's, an Afro-Cuban bar in Les Halles, where he indulges his taste for Pelforth beer and women-watching. He professes to "understand human psychology from the way people shift their rear-ends."
Despite his straitened circumstances, Buttologist prides himself on his sense of style. He's a snappy dresser, favouring crocodile-skin Westons and tailor-made Italian suits. He's also an aspiring writer and buys a second-hand typewriter, "because I wanted to be like a real writer who rips up pages, crosses things out, and has to interrupt his creative flow in order to change the... ribbon."
Buttologist is still mourning the loss of his girlfriend who has returned to Congo Brazzaville with their infant daughter and an African drummer nicknamed the Hybrid because "he looks like a primate who narrowly missed out on evolving into a human." He also has to contend with the racist remarks of his Martiniquais neighbour, Mr Hippocratic, who regularly extols the virtues of colonialism.
On the advice of his Haitian writer friend, Buttologist starts to keep a diary to express and learn from his conflicted feelings. As well as venting his spleen about his girlfriend's betrayal, he records gossip from the bar, debates about whether the Whites were slavers or saviours, his run-ins with his neighbour, encounters with women, memories of his childhood and meditations on corruption in post-colonial Africa.
Black Bazaar is less defined by plot and more about Buttologist's reactions to people, places and events. It features an array of unforgettable characters, from Jip's coarse, sardonic barflies to the sympathetic "Arab on the corner", who likes to begin his conversations by quoting the poet Aimé Césaire: "For too long the West has force-fed us lies and bloated us with pestilence..."
Alain Mabanckou, shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2010 for Broken Glass, writes with real joie de vivre and paints a vivid, poignant, portrait of the Black immigrant community in Paris. His characters' linguistic idiosyncrasies are deftly translated by Sarah Ardizzone. Buttologist is an irreverent but loveable rogue whose various adventures in the lesser known quarters of Paris are as illuminating as they are entertaining. Mabanckou's pointed literary and musical allusions and sly digs at Africans' own prejudices add to the rich cultural tapestry.
Buy Black Bazaar (Serpent's Tail) from independentbooksdirect.co.uk for £8.54 (RRP £8.99) including postage or call 0843 0600030
Arts & Ents blogs
Thirteen-year-old Conor awakes in bed one night to discover that the yew tree outside his house has ...
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen series 5, episode 11 of ‘Made in Chelsea’ It’s hard ...
Fragility of life looms large over an episode that closes with the scarring on Julie's stomach. Whil...
Sir Paul McCartney's son James admits he didn't like Heather Mills and talks publicly for the first time about his struggle with drugs
It's not just Jay-Z and Kanye West: The beatification of hip-hop
Leah McFall favourite to win The Voice UK 2013
Film review: Man of Steel - Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a bit of a fudge
TV review: The White Queen is less historically plausible than Game of Thrones (despite being ostensibly true)
- 1 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 2 Charles Saatchi accepts caution for assault over incident in Scott’s restaurant when he put his hands on throat of wife Nigella Lawson
- 3 Anatomy of a waiter: Service staff spill the secrets of their trade
- 4 Exclusive: Cristiano Ronaldo advised to stay at Real Madrid for another 18 months before making possible switch to Manchester United
- 5 Iran to send 4,000 troops to aid President Assad forces in Syria