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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Memoirs of a Porcupine

Alain Mabanckou

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To purchase Memoirs of a Porcupine

Title: Memoirs of a Porcupine
Author: Alain Mabanckou
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 154 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Memoirs of a Porcupine - US
Memoirs of a Porcupine - UK
Memoirs of a Porcupine - Canada
Mémoires de porc-épic - Canada
Memoirs of a Porcupine - India
Mémoires de porc-épic - France
Stachelschweins Memoiren - Deutschland
Memorie di un porcospino - Italia
Memorias de Puercoespín - España
  • French title: Mémoires de porc-épic
  • Translated by Helen Stevenson
  • Prix Renaudot, 2006

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely-done dark modern fable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 24/8/2006 Olivier Le Naire
FAZ . 23/12/2011 Lena Bopp
NZZ . 6/9/2011 JV

  From the Reviews:
  • "Plein de fantômes, de féticheurs, d'ethnologues ripoux et de sauvages roublards, d'hommes ou d'animaux étranges trimballés par les caprices du destin, Mémoires de porc-épic est un festival d'humour, de charme et de poésie. Un roman rédigé d'une traite, sans point ni majuscule, de manière à retrouver le rythme et la musique de l'oralité africaine." - Olivier Le Naire, L'Express

  • "Es ist ein aufklärerisches Buch, weil er seinen Erzähler nicht an die Wiedergeburt im Jenseits glauben, sondern es im positiv altmodischen Sinn an seinem jetzigen Dasein festhalten lässt. Es ist ein Plädoyer für Bildung, Bücher und das Lesen, aber auch eine Kritik an dem Bild, das sich die westliche Zivilisation, die im Roman in Gestalt einer Gruppe von Ethnologen erscheint, von Afrika macht. Es ist ein komplexes, hakenschlagendes Spiel mit afrikanischen Überlieferungen und europäischen (Leser-)erwartungen, an dessen Ende mehr Fragen gestellt, als Antworten gegeben werden. Mit einem Wort: Es ist ein bemerkenswerter, kluger Roman." - Lena Bopp, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Er seziert menschliche Schwächen, führt sie in seinen Protagonisten wieder zusammen und schafft mittels traumartiger Monologe und jeder Menge afrikanischer Sinnsprüche ein inhaltlich und atmosphärisch ungewöhnliches Werk." - JV, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Memoirs of a Porcupine is ultimately presented as a work by the eponymous hero of Broken Glass, in an Appendix in which bar-owner -- and Broken Glass' literary executor -- Stubborn Snail describes some of the background of the manuscript. As he notes, Broken Glass himself figures neither as narrator nor as character in the book, and so Memoirs of a Porcupine is not a sequel but rather a sort of companion piece to Broken Glass. Stubborn Snail explains about author Broken Glass:

As he sees it, the world is just an approximate version of a fable which we will never understand as long as we continue to take account only of the material representation of things.
       As the title suggests, this allegorical tale is indeed narrated by a porcupine. He is an animal-double, in a world where most humans have animal doubles -- ones born on the same day as them, but which they never see and which only interfere in the humans' lives in rare circumstances. But he isn't the usual kind of animal-double:
no, I'm one of the harmful doubles, we're the liveliest, scariest kind of double, the least common, too
       The porcupine has managed to outlive his human, too -- itself unusual -- beginning his memoir at age forty-two, two days after the death of Kibandi, with whom he was joined when the boy was ten, and now reflecting on their life together.
       To be joined with the human, the porcupine loses his direct connection to the animal world, too, the separation from his family complete. Along with Kibandi he is slowly pulled into the abyss by Papa Kibandi.
       The family legacy is one of 'eating people' -- so the euphemism for murder -- and Papa Kibandi proves to have a voracious appetite before he is finally dealt with. Eventually, young Kibandi, and his porcupine-helper, follow in his footsteps -- with the porcupine often called upon to do the dirty work with one of his sharp quills.
       Superstition is still widespread in this rural community, and so, for example, after a suspicious death they hold a trial -- "where the corpse picks out the criminal". Kibandi has learnt some of the tricks of both the murderous trade as well as avoiding detection by these supernatural means and isn't fingered in this way (so instead a: "poor innocent was buried alive with the deceased").
       Among those Kibandi dispatches is a rare local who has been sent by his family to get an education, and who brings books back with him and disparages how backwards his home has remained.
       Books are suspect -- so too novels, as the porcupine complains about
some novelists who would sell their own mothers or fathers to sell my porcupine destiny, draw inspiration from it, write a story in which I'd have an rather less than glorious, make me look like low life, let me tell you this, human beings find life so boring, they need novels so they can invent other lives for themselves
       The world in which Kibandi lives is one of a different sort of escapism, still strongly rooted in superstition and traditions that also allow him get away with his monstrous behavior for so long; only carelessness -- "he had ignored certain basic prohibitions usually observed by those in possession of a harmful double" -- finally sees him falter (as his father had before him) before his hundredth kill.
       The porcupine describes his -- and his human double's -- actions, without trying very hard to justify them. There is a sense of fate and inevitability to the course of events -- even the end -- but there's also a sly understanding to the porcupine's narrative. Not so much a learning curve as a consistent quiet undermining of what he is involved with.
       Memoirs of a Porcupine is a dark, different sort of African tale. Less clear -- or at least less blatant -- in its moral than a conventional fable, it is nevertheless a humanistic work -- but one suffused with brutal darkness. Uneasily comic, too, it is not meant to be a comfortable read, but proves nevertheless to be quite effective.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 December 2012

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Memoirs of a Porcupine: Reviews: Alain Mabanckou: Other books by Alain Mabanckou under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       Alain Mabanckou is from Congo-Brazzaville. He was born in 1966 and currently teaches in the US.

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