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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Little Boys Come from the Stars

Emmanuel Dongala

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To purchase Little Boys Come from the Stars

Title: Little Boys Come from the Stars
Author: Emmanuel Dongala
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 246 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Little Boys Come from the Stars - US
Little Boys Come from the Stars - UK
Little Boys Come from the Stars - Canada
Les petits garçons naissent aussi des étoiles - Canada
Les petits garçons naissent aussi des étoiles - France
Kinder von den Sternen - Germany
  • French title: Les petits garçons naissent aussi des étoiles
  • Translated by Joël Réjouis and Val Vinokurov

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely presented novel of contemporary Africa

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 19/4/2001 Heinz Hug
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/5/2001 Jonathan Mahler

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Kinder von den Sternen erweist sich die kindliche Erzählperspektive einmal mehr als äusserst reizvoll -- und zugleich problematisch. (...) Das Eindrücklichste an Kinder von den Sternen ist der Schluss. Der politische Erzählstrang bricht kurz vor den Wahlen unvermittelt ab -- Matapari richtet sein Interesse vollständig auf den Grossvater, der im Sterben liegt. Diese Wende verlagert den Erzählfokus vom Persönlichen und Politisch-Gesellschaftlichen, die Dongala äusserst gekonnt miteinander verbindet, auf das Philosophische." - Heinz Hug, 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:

       Little Boys Come from the Stars is narrated by fifteen year-old Michel (whom almost everyone calls Matapari), a bright though not yet sophisticated youth. The book begins with his remarkable birth: his mother gave birth to twins and everyone, her included, then thought the labour was done with -- only to have Matapari appear two days later. Adding to the drama: he was born on 15 August 1980, "the twentieth anniversary of our Independence".
       Little Boys Come from the Stars is about the African country Matapari grows up in. It's name isn't specified, though it certainly resembles Dongala's native Congo (not to be confused with the other Congo, formerly also known as Zaïre and before that the Belgian Congo), but it can stand for most any of the Francophone West African states -- or beyond. The corrupt politicians, the tribal and racial strife, the conflict between tradition and modernity: much of it is familiar from any number of places.
       Dongala's novel is a satire, but it is remarkable for how generally gently it pokes fun, as well as for its occasionally wistful air.
       It is Matapari's father who is the voice of reason in the novel: a scientifically minded and curious teacher, he sees through all the falsehoods and exaggerations (and these are found at absolutely every turn), but he isn't unbearably righteous or a know-it-all, understanding that he can only counsel sanity and not impose it. Meanwhile, Uncle Boula Boula is the opposite extreme, jumping at every opportunity without worrying about the larger picture (or, it seems, his conscience).
       The government is, for most of the novel, autocratic -- the usual pseudo-Marxist-Leninist power structure that eventually develops into cult of the personality lunacy. In this case the Comrade President, on the thirtieth anniversary of independence (when Matapari turns ten), is appointed "Marshal for Life", and a grand plan is launched to rent space on a space rocket:

and to launch into geosynchronous orbit 22,250 miles above our equator a giant bust of our new marshal, a bust made of gold-plated fiberglass. Day and night, this bust, fixed above our heads, will be our faithful sentinel at the zenith of the firmament
       But it's not just dictatorial insanity and inanity that is addressed. Eventually democracy also comes to this country, with results no less ridiculous.
       Uncle Boula Boula rises to the (near) greatest heights -- making it up to number two in the hierarchy, before an equally precipitous fall. His show trial is described in depth (Matapari watches it on television) and it is half-hilarious, half deeply disturbing (because such sham show trial and the absurd evidence presented before them have been all too common in the past century).
       Matapari's family makes for a nice contrast to the greater political and economic disturbances, though Dongala doesn't flesh all of them out sufficiently. Guileless and non-judgemental Matapari makes for a very good guide, showing how many of these absurdities and much of the ruin of the country come about. His father's wise words are also well woven into the story.
       The novel is fairly contemporary, even modern -- a political candidate is known as Professor Pentium-75, and Matapari dreams of surfing the Internet -- and yet tradition continues to have a strong hold everywhere. Dongala's portrait is, ultimately, loving, even if his head is shaking in reproof and disappointment all the way.
       A good snapshot of contemporary Africa, Little Boys Come from the Stars is filled with entertaining (and occasionally very funny) stories. An enjoyable and often clever work.

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Little Boys Come from the Stars: Reviews: Emmanuel Dongala: Other books by Emmanuel Dongala under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of books relating to Africa under review.

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About the Author:

       Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala, born in 1941, lived in what is now Congo-Brazzaville until 1997. He is president of the Congolese PEN Centre and currently teaches at Simon's Rock of Bard College in the US.

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