(Republic of the) Congo: Porcupines Do Not Care for Punctuation

The idea behind the book Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou fascinates me. Every person has an animal double, according to an oral tradition in Africa. My mind creates many possible storylines, but I would never come up with Mabanckou’s story. I realize there is such a variety of genres and variations within each genre, which is a good thing, since there is something for everyone.

I try to broaden my horizons by reading from coast to coast, and I try to understand different books and authors, sometimes I just don’t get along with the book. It all started while reading the first sentence, and can you guess why? There are basically as many sentences as there are chapters, simply because there is not one full stop in the story. This alone nearly drove me insane (yes, overreaction). I have read a few other books written in the same way, and one book without commas. Some people might like this but I feel like I’m running out of air because there are never any breaks I can take while reading the book imagine doing this for a whole chapter at a time and then continue with this throughout a whole book…

The writing style quite frankly wrecked the book for me, which means that the story suffered, which is sad. I guess in a way this book is a good example of African literature, or the lack of written culture, because oral traditions are strong. An oral tradition is that every human has an animal double, and in this case the animal happens to be a porcupine. The protagonist boy, Kibandi, feel threatened by a lot of people, and his animal double, the porcupine, sucks these human dry, and kills them instantly. The porcupine is quite busy, because in the end he has had more than one hundred victims. That is a lot to write about in a memoir.

African folklore, superstition and beliefs are interesting, but in this context it was too much for me. It’s too bizarre and overwhelming. Looking past all this, once again, the story is about human nature; and how hard it is to fit in, and be at peace with oneself. It is also a funny and satirical book. People who enjoy folklore and fantasy with bizarre people and magic, will most likely enjoy this book as well, unless the lack of punctuation kills all the fun.

I really should add full stops to this story, if only for myself. I think I would read a totally different story, a story I would actually be able to enjoy. To go back to what I said in the beginning; I would love the idea of a porcupine telling the story about his life as someone’s animal double. The execution would look a bit different in a perfect world. There I go again; human nature. It’s impossible to satisfy us!


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