- If you are only going to read one novel from the Republic of Congo, do NOT make it this one. An ideal "Reading the Continent" selection is one that sheds light, or offers texture to a specific period of history in the subject country. "Memoirs of a Porcupine" won't leave the reader better understanding the specific politics, history or culture of Congo beyond a knowledge that many people may still deeply embrace the superstitious. I might recommend instead "The Lights of Pointe-Noire" which will likely take this one's place on my Reading the Continent List.
- This tale centers around a boy and porcupine that have possessed each other--the porcupine is the 'harmful double' of a young village boy named Kibandi. Evidently there are also 'peaceful doubles', but that's not what this tale is about. As the narrator porcupine unfolds the tale of his life, the reader follows his journey from mere animal to Kibandi's hitman assassin. The narrative eventually devolves into a murderous spree of anyone who happens to given even minor offense to Kibandi.
- A notable practice in the novel is that of "trial by corpse" where a group of men hold up the murdered person and that dead person "directs" them to the guilty party. This superstitious practice has some commonality with the former Malagasy practice noted in "Beyond the Rice Fields." For a long time Kibandi evades detection by putting a nut up his butt...yes his butt.
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
See our 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.
Key References (For Further Study):
- the universally dreaded trial by corpse, where the corpse picks out its aggressor, is widely used in these parts, whenever someone dies, the villagers rush to do it, to their minds there’s no such thing as a natural death, only the dead can tell the living who caused their death (94).
- ‘sit at the foot of a baobab tree, and given time, you’ll see the whole universe pass before you’, our old porcupine used to say, he told us that at that time the baobabs could talk, respond to humans, punish them, whip them with their branches when the monkey cousins took up arms against the plant world and in those days he went on, the baobabs could move about, find themselves a more comfortable spot where they could take better root, some of them came from far, far away, they would pass other baobabs going the other way because one always tends to think that the soil elsewhere is better than one’s native soil, that life is easier elsewhere (100).
- what I really didn’t want to do was watch the poor innocent child taking leave of this life just because of the stupidity and irresponsibility of his father, that I did not want to see, and yet something about it bothered me, I felt ashamed of my own reflection in the water, I went to the funeral, perhaps hoping for some kind of forgiveness, I heard the poor folk singing their funeral songs, and I wept (120).
- I’ve got two ideas I’d like to follow up, first I’d like to wage a merciless campaign against all the harmful doubles in this country, I know that’s a big undertaking, but I’d like to hunt them down, one after the other, by way of atonement, to wipe out my share of responsibility for the misfortune suffered by this and many other villages, and second, dear Baobab, I’d simply like to go back and live in our old territory because spending so much time with men has made me nostalgic, it’s a feeling you might call territory-sickness, men would say homesickness, a longing for their country, I cling to my memories as the elephant clings to his tusks, distant images, vanished shades, far off noises which stop me doing something irreparable, oh yes, irreparable, I do think of that too, of taking my own life, but it’s the most cowardly of all acts, and just as human beings believe their existence comes from a supreme being, I have come to believe it too, since last Friday, the reason I’m still alive, for porcupine’s sake, must be because some higher will than mine has decreed it, and if so, I must have one last mission to carry out here below (149)