Written from the comical first-person perspective of a 14-year-old boy in an unnamed Francophone African country (presumably Congo), this is one of the freshest and funniest novels to come out of Africa in recent years. Narrator Matapari is born several days after his twin brothers in mysterious and comical circumstances in 1980, exactly twenty years after his county's independence from France. Raised by his schoolteacher father and devoutly religious mother, he proves to be a precocious and intelligent child, keenly interested in the world around him. Although the family lives in a small village away from the capital, Matapari manages to bear witness to many of his country's crucial events. Through his eyes, the reader is told of his coming of age, but more importantly, the satirical political development of postcolonial Congo.
Matapari's entree to these events is his mother's brother, the shamelessly amoral Uncle Boula Boula, who manages to smooth-talk, fake, and bribe his way into a high echelon position in the pseudo-Marxist government (complete with a cult of personality Comrade President). Boula Boula's position leads to the village being selected as the site for the country's 30th independence celebration. Dongala unsparingly mocks the massive effort and expense laid out to build a huge stadium, an airport, luxury hotel and restaurant, solely for the three day party (predictably, a year later, all of these are crumbling and abandoned). Among the wonderful satirical episodes is one in which the children are assembled in the stadium so that the Great Leader demonstrates his power compared to that of God, and another in which a plan is announced to launch a gold-plated bust of the leader into orbit.
Another excellent episode occurs later, after his uncle has risen to the highest echelon of power. An agricultural fair is set up in order to promote the supplementing of the national diet with canned food (past due products imported from China by the Lebanese). Matapari and his father set up a stand using insects as food, but the top prize is given to Uncle's mistress (the former clerk of the village store). Later, the uncle is accused of treason and his hilarious and yet scary show trial is broadcast on television. This eventually so ires Matapari's father that he inadvertently sparks a popular uprising leading to democracy. Of course, this just provide further material for Dongala's satire of African politics, as the wacky antics continue into the new democratic era. Mixed in with the skewering of African politics are plenty of well-rendered vignettes of growing up, such as his love for Coca-Cola, his crush on the Lebanese merchant's daughter (who is sent away), power struggles with his two brothers, wisdom dispensed by his grandfather, and his intellectual development. An excellent book for those seeking African fiction that entertains as it provides a window into unfamiliar territory.