Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Fire of Origins by Emmanuel Dongala Review

The Fire of Origins is the second novel that I have read towards my Experiencing Ancestry through Fiction project. It is set in an unnamed country, but is written by an author from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so that is where I imagine the story takes place. The story follows the life of Mandala Mankuku, who witnesses the fall of his people and country to colonialism, and the struggle of it's people to break free and reestablish itself as a sovereign nation. 

Mankuku arrives in the world under questionable circumstances because his birth wasn't witnessed by members of his parents' village. The place of his birth had to be tracked down and accepted before he could be deemed fully human, and not some spirit delivered to his mother. To top things off, Mankuku is also born with green eyes, which causes much debate among the villagers. They have to decide if this highly unusual occurrence is a good or bad omen. As things progress, Mankuku's birth heralds in many changes. 

Mankuku eventually follows the tradition of his father's family and becomes a blacksmith and nganga (healer), but colonization, western influences on religion, culture, and social standards leads Mankuku onto a completely different path than what he imagined for himself. Through Mankuku's experiences, Dongala reflects on the cost of colonization to the soul and cultural value of an entire nation. Not only are the people suffering from being subjugated by a foreign power that has no respect for them, but they also have to deal with their fellow citizens trying to profit off of other people's suffering and need for comfort. 

Although I enjoyed this story for the most part, it was not an easy book to read. The sentence structure is a bit choppy which made reading flow difficult. This is a translated work, so that may be part of the problem. The plot was good, Mankuku was an interesting and relatable character, but the secondary characters that represented all of the changes and problems were a bit one dimensional and predictable. 

**You can find more information on my Experiencing Ancestry Through Fiction project here. **

The whole of African history unfolds in this brilliant novel from one of the continent’s major writers. The story is unified by the actions of one man, Mankunku, a “destroyer,” who is born in mysterious circumstances in a banana plantation and whose identity is as variable as that of his land. This novel traces his development along with that of his unnamed country, from the precolonial era, through the horrors of European subjugation, to independence and the complexities of the postcolonial nation. Along the way, charlatans and saints, workers and bureaucrats, warriors and peacemakers are introduced in a moving mélange of laughter and terror.

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