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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Antipeople

Sony Labou Tansi

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Antipeople

Title: The Antipeople
Author: Sony Labou Tansi
Genre: Novel
Written: 1983 (Eng. 1988)
Length: 170 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Antipeople - US
The Antipeople - UK
The Antipeople - Canada
L'anté-peuple - Canada
The Antipeople - India
L'anté-peuple - France
Die tödliche Tugend des Genossen Direktor - Deutschland
Nemico del popolo - Italia
  • French title: L'anté-peuple
  • Translated by J.A.Underwood

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Our Assessment:

B : good ideas, powerful scenes, but rough and muddled

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/7/1988 Leonie Caldecott
The Observer . 20/3/1988 .
Publishers Weekly . 1/1/1988 .
TLS . 15/7/1988 .
VLS . 10/1988 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "By the time I had read the first few pages of The Antipeople, by Sony Labou Tansi of Congo, I had decided I hated it. By the time I had read half the book, I had completely changed my mind. (...) Throughout its urgent, sardonic narrative The Antipeople brings us face to face with despair and death, and proposes no solutions except, perhaps, the constancy of love." - Leonie Caldecott, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Brooding, satirical, passionate, The Antipeople gives readers an illuminating glimpse of a contemporary African society in upheaval." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       The Antipeople begins as the story of Nitu Dadou, the principal of a teacher-training college for girls in Zaïre. He has an important position and is respected in the community, but when one of his students shows too great an interest in him he begins to fall apart, turning to drink and neglecting his work -- though resisting temptation. The girl, Yavelde, eventually commits suicide, and leaves a nasty suicide note claiming he forced her to get an abortion which went wrong. The authorities and the community quickly turn against him, and he doesn't flee while he still can.
       His two children are killed, his wife commits suicide, and he rots, dazed and largely indifferent, in jail. The only one who sticks by him is Yavelde's sister, Yealdara -- causing a rupture with her father, a man of ever-increasing power, rising to higher and higher positions in the government, who wants Dadou to suffer as much and as long as possible.
       Dadou befriends the prison-governor, and with his help Dadou is eventually able to escape. The tense local political situation means that he has to flee across the border, into Angola -- where things are little better.
       Eventually the story shifts to Yealdara, who also comes to Angola, looking for Dadou. The situation there is terrible by now, but she manages to get by for a while. Eventually, she too is sucked into the political conflict -- as was Dadou.
       One character observes: "When a country has gone mad, the things people do make you wonder." Arbitrary and excessive violence are the norm in both countries the novel is set in, overkill the preferred method of dealing with any situation. Some still act generously, such as the prison-governor who helps Dadou (which ultimately ruins his career), but sacrifice of personal morals and standards is far more widespread, as both Dadou and Yealdara compromise themselves in the struggle for survival.
       The Antipeople is awash in moral ambiguity: the webs of deceit and suffering are so extensive that doing what is right (and surviving doing that) is almost impossible. Dadou's fall came at the hands of a foolish young girl (and a newly discovered weakness for drink), but he lives in a world where catastrophe is almost inevitable.
       Sony's bleak picture of a world of suspicion and brutality, leavened by instances of trust and generosity and even love -- though these appear almost as arbitrary -- is disturbing. It is also frustrating, in that the evolution of few characters is closely traced: the crowded book, moving fairly quickly along, doesn't give a good feel of how individual fates are shaped, focussing largely on the catastrophic ends. Dadou, too, isn't entirely successful, lost for much of the novel in an alcoholic haze, and then disappearing from sight entirely for a longer stretch.
       The small touches are often effective: the jail, crowded with intellectuals, life in the fishing village, the resistance fighters disguised as madmen, some of the personal relationships. But as a whole the book feels unfocussed, as if Sony weren't entirely certain of what his central points should be. In presenting life in Zaïre and Angola, where life can be turned upside-down overnight, this is perhaps realistic -- the reader is certainly always left on edge -- but the book's many unexpected turns and shifts of focus (and even its ending) seem too arbitrary.
       Sony fills the books with portraits, opinions, and events that all suggest what is wrong, and yet they -- the problems and the presentation -- are overwhelming. There are interesting individual thoughts, such as:

In ten or twenty years' time, you know, our children will hate soldiers the way we hated the colonists. And then the new decolonization will begin. The most important revolution, the first one: the soldier exchanged for the heart and the intellect. If that can happen there will be no end any more.
       But like so much in the book it's basically just something thrown into the mix, and not adequately addressed.
       Teeming with ideas, plots, events, and characters, The Antipeople is yet another African novel in which the centre does not hold. It is effective as such, convincing in its authenticity, frustration, and anger, but a more tightly-focussed book would likely impress far more.

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The Antipeople: Reviews: Sony Labou Tansi: Other books by Sony Labou Tansi under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Sony Labou Tansi (1947-1995) spent most of his life in Congo-Brazzaville. He led a theatrical troupe, and wrote numerous plays and novels.

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