Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Book Review: In the Belly of the Congo
by Amy B. Reid (translated)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm waffling between 3 and 4 stars for In the Belly of the Congo. It was good; but not engaging. This could be because it was a translation; something often seems to get lost in the nuances and flow when it's translated to another language (from one to any language, not just English).
There are two POVs, 45 years apart, in this novel. The first one takes up about 70% of the novel and is, unfortunately, lackluster in comparison to the second. In fact it frustrated me that by the end of the novel you could tell the author had intentional written 'down' the first POV so it sounded less educated and made you think a certain way. While this may seem like brilliant writing (and it maybe is at an academic review level); it does not make this an enjoyable book to read, at least for me.
The latter half of the book has an eloquence far above that of the first. With wonderful lines like this:
"A woman who'll teacher her child that no one is a prison of her genes, that life is a far richer adventure and not just an endless trial against the gods and their plots."
Even if the writing was only subpar for me; there is no doubt that In The Belly of the Congo tells a really important historical story that (I'm betting) most don't know. I certainly had no idea that in the World's Fair of 1958 (not that long ago!) there was an 'exhibit' of Congolese natives that was set-up like a zoo. It allowed visitors to the Fair to see the Congolese natives in their "natural form" by setting up a stage with bedding, food, cooking implements, etc. like they might have at home; and then those who had come to 'act' in the event were asked to show their culture.
This might sound like an interesting way, pre-video and Internet to show a culture; but in actual fact it was a cage to the Congolese actors. These people were put on display, for almost no compensation, to allow a bunch of white folks to gain money and notoriety. It's truly disgusting; and this is well conveyed by the end of the novel.
If nothing else I would encourage folks to learn about this awful exploitation; even if you don't chose to read the book.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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