Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou

“It would be fairer to say I have travelled widely, without ever leaving my own native soil, I’ve travelled, one might say, through literature, each time I’ve opened a book the pages echoed with a noise like the dip of a paddle in midstream, and throughout my odyssey I never crossed a single border, and so never had to produce a passport, I’d just pick a destination at random, setting my prejudices firmly to one side, and be welcomed with open arms in places swarming with weird and wonderful characters”.

This is a quote from the end of Broken Glass. It shows how important and powerful books are. By reading a book people can travel all over the world and meet people. Books and stories are about learning and exploration.

Broken Glass is the name of the book. But it is also the name of the main character and the narrator. Broken Glass is a retired schoolteacher. He often visits a run-down bar called Credit Gone West in a Congolese city. The book is written like Broken Glass himself is writing in a notebook. It begins “let’s say the owner of Credit Gone West gave me this notebook to fill”. The owner is called Stubborn Snail. He wants Broken Glass to write about him because “he didn’t want Credit Gone West to vanish one day, and added that people in this country have no sense of the importance of memory”. When he writes about the bar and the people in it Broken Glass is letting them be remembered. That way normal people can live even after they have died. When they are in a book means it can be remembered forever.

The first part of the book is about political struggles in the Republic of the Congo. The President is angry about “the countries of Europe, who dazzled us with the sun of independence, when in fact we’re still dependent on them”. The book is about people who are dependent on others. They represent different parts of Africa. Most of the customers in the bar rely on people like Broken Glass to keep them happy.
Most of the book is Broken Glass describing the people he meets in the bar. He writes “I’ve been analysing customer psychology at Credit Gone West for years now”. He meets these people “most of the new characters in the bar, they just pop out of nowhere, suddenly there they are, with tears in their eyes and a tremor in their voice”. He describes them as characters because they are both characters and people. In Broken Glass Alain Mabanckou shows how books connect with the real world. The characters might not be real but the feelings and stories are. Broken Glass says “I’d heard so many stories, you couldn’t fit them all in just one notebook, I’d need several volumes to tell the tales of all these accursed kings”. The characters are described as kings. This is because in a book everyone is treated like they are royalty, even if they are normal.
Broken Glass means broken mirror. The narrator Broken Glass is like a mirror who reflects all the characters. It is broken because all the characters in Credit Gone West are separate from each other. However, they come together and find meaning in the bar.
Broken Glass Starts talking about himself. He remembers when he was a teacher and went into school drunk. He remembers his ex-wife Angelica, who he calls Diabolica. She tried to stop him from being an alcoholic. Afterwards she left him and Broken Glass was fired from the school. This is when he started going to Credit Gone West and made friends with Stubborn Snail.
Broken Glass reflects on what reading has done for him. Books have helped him discover Africa and his identity. He says: “I warmed myself by the fire of my origins, but almost at once I must be off again, I mustn’t get trapped by the warmth of my native soil, I must wend my way through the rest of the continent listening to the major elegies and shadow songs”. He thinks it is a beautiful experience but they are only “shadow songs”. Reality is more important and the book encourages the reader to explore the real Africa.
The book ends with Broken Glass about to go and kill himself. This seems like a sad ending but he is happy. Because he has written the book, him and everyone in Credit Gone West will live on even after his death. The book shows the good features of alcoholics and outcasts. It also shows how important books can be. Alain Mabanckou shows that we should take time to meet everyone and try to improve their lives.

FERGUS MCLANAGHAN

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