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12 Swiss Books – 2015

Bantu Trinity

bantu trinity
la trinité bantoue



“The freedom of his language is matched by the freedom of his tone. Max Lobe doesn’t waste his time with nice sentiments or political correctness.”





MAX LOBE was born in Cameroon in 1986 and arrived in Switzerland at the age of 18. He studied Communications and Journalism in Lugano, then Political Science and Public Administration in Lausanne. In 2011, he published his first novel, L’Enfant du miracle, with Éditions des Sauvages. In 2013, his novel, 39 rue de Berne, published with Éditions Zoé, established him as one of the leading writers of his generation. PHOTO © Yvonne Böhler, Editions Zoé 

Mwána, a young graduate from Africa who has settled in Geneva, tries to land a job befitting his level of education. The controversy over foreigners as ‘black sheep’
is dividing Switzerland. Mwána plays along with this in his interviews with his unemployment officer, and shares the contents of the care packages his Bantu mother sends from home with his partner Ruedi, though he always rejects the idea of accepting welfare. Passive and indolent, Ruedi refuses ‘gombo’ or financial support from his family while Mwána’s efforts to find work run up against a wall of racial prejudice. Mwána’s mother’s illness, and her move to a hospital in Ticino, where his sister Kosambela works, open a barely visible gap in his blinkered horizon. Mwána begins to commute between the bedside of his mother, Monga Míngá, where he is inspired by her fighting spirit, and the Geneva office of Madame Bauer, the training manager who has hired him as an assistant in her fight for a wide variety of causes: racial, social, women’s and, above all, animal rights. Madame Bauer’s indignation, Kosambela’s religious and mystical enthusiasms, Monga Míngá’s dignity, Mwána’s own luminous view of the nightmares that plague him are sources of hope that elevate the narrative to the miraculous.
The inventiveness of Max Lobe’s prose, its musicality and colouring, are deployed in Mwána’s story in order to transform his dejection into joy. The particular contours of his language, both oral and literary, are the fruits of an inexhaustible lexical and grammatical resourcefulness, coupled with a sense of irony as exquisite as it is efficient. Whilst they are sometimes selfmocking, his words are always precise
and luminescent.

TITLE La Trinité bantoue
PUBLISHER Editions Zoé, Carouge
ISBN 978-2-88182-926-0
TRANSLATION RIGHTS Yannick Stiassny, yannick.stiassny@editionszoe.ch


French original (p. 31-32)

Je vais devoir mentir. Ça arrangera tout le monde.
Je vais lui dire que tout va bien ici. Que je suis heureux. Très heureux même. Je vais lui inventer des trucs invraisemblables : que je lui ferai bientôt parvenir du gombo bien glissant et en masse. Que je viens de trouver un boulot très bien payé dans une grande organisation de la coopération internationale genevoise. Que je vais bientôt m’acheter une très grande villa au bord du Léman ou un chalet dans les -hauteurs de Davos. Que je lui rendrai visite au Bantouland tous les mois et même tous les week-ends si elle le souhaite. Je lui dirai même que mon compagnon a un retard de plusieurs semaines et qu’il mettra bientôt au monde un très bel enfant. Qu’elle aura l’honneur de bercer ce premier môme biologiquement né de deux pères. Qu’elle pourra l’accompagner à l’école, lui cuisiner un plat de manioc accompagné d’une sauce à base d’huile de palme, lui chanter des berceuses bantoues et lui conter des fables des Alpes grisonnes qu’elle ne connaît pas.
— Je vais commencer un petit stage dans quelques jours, je finis par souffler au téléphone.
— Ah Nzambé ! Tu ne m’as rien dit avant. Comme tu sais jouer à cache-cache avec ta mère.
Maman parle avec une voix éraillée.
— Laisse ça. Il n’y a même pas de cache-cache là-dedans. C’est juste un petit truc de trois mois.
— En tout cas, que Nzambé soit loué ! Tu dois être content. Tu vois ? La patience paie. Il suffit de prier. Nzambé, Élôlombi et les Bankóko aident toujours leurs pauvres petits enfants.
— C’est même comme ça.
Ma mère continue de parler de Nzambé, Dieu Le Père. De Élôlombi, Dieu des esprits qui planent sur nos âmes, entre ciel et terre. Et des Bankóko, nos Ancêtres qui veillent sur nos vies et répondent à nos désirs les plus profonds. «C’est même comme ça», «Qu’il en soit ainsi», je continue de répondre machinalement.


Excerpt translated by Tess Lewis

I’m going to have to lie to her. It’ll suit everyone.
I’ll tell her that everything’s fine here. That I’m happy. Very happy, even. I’ll come up with all sorts of incredible things: that I’ll be able to send some gombo soon, slick and fast; that I just got a job that pays very well in a large organisation for international cooperation in Geneva; that I’ll be able to buy myself a great big villa on Lake Geneva or a chalet up near Davos; that I’ll visit her in the Bantu country once a month, even every weekend if she wants. I’ll even tell her that my partner is a few weeks late and will soon bring a beautiful baby into the world; that she will have the honour of rocking this first kid born of two biological fathers; that she’ll be able to walk him to school, cook him a dish of manioc with a palm oil based sauce, sing him Bantu lullabies and tell him folk tales from the Grison Alps she hasn’t seen yet.
“I’m going to start a short trainee programme in a few days,” I end up whispering into the telephone.
“Oh Nzambé! You never told me about this. You really know how to play hide and seek with your mother.” Mother’s voice is hoarse.
“Let it go. I’m not hiding anything. It’s just a three-month thing.”
“Well, praised be Nzambé, in any case! You must be happy. You see? It pays to be patient. All you have to do is pray. Nzambé, Élôlombi and the Bankóko always help their poor little children.”
“That’s how it is.”
My mother keeps talking about Nzambé, God the Father. About Élôlombi, God of the spirits that hover over our souls, between heaven and earth. And about the Bankóko, our Ancestors who watch over our lives and answer our deepest desires. “That’s how it is,” “So be it,” I repeat mechanically.

“What is most delightful about Bantu Trinity, is the sense that this book
has been constructed with and against language, both inside and outside of a language, a language that has itself been created from other languages. The novel is shot through with the question of language, of incomprehension between people, and the desire to draw closer to one another through speech.” VICEVERSA LITTÉRATURE

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