It took some time before I got into this book by the writer Mudimbe (1941). He studied in Belgium (a Ph.D.) and France. He moved to the United States of America in 1979 (the year of publication of this book), where he pursued an academic career.
First, there is an introduction to this book. The book is a collection of notebooks by a Congolese / Zaïrois historian. During a few days he wrote down his thoughts about the very same day and about his past. Each notebook represents one day. At the end he is found dead. It is decided by a friend to publish these notebooks. In the notebooks some thoughts are well developed, others are in an embryonical state. Before publication, no attempt has been made to fill in the gaps. This makes hard reading at times. Where I am now? Where is the protagonist in this very sentence?
Second, the notes itself. The historian Ahmed Nara is doing research on an ethnic group in a library in Kinshasa. He studies Kuba, and he plans to write the history of these people. He is very enthousiastic about it and he wants to share this with his friends. One of the workers at the library is Aminata, this lady (with two children) takes care of him. She acts like a mother to him (or maybe at times as a potential lover).
In the past he has studied 5 years in France at an university. During those difficult years he met Isabelle (with lips like a negress). He is unable to forget Isabelle. Her memories haunt him and confuse him. One point of discussion with Isabelle were stereotypes and prejudices on people of the African continent.
Ahmed spends time with his psychiatrist Sano, to talk about his past in France and his present in Kinshasa, to find out who he is, dangling between Europe (Isabelle ) and Africa (Aminata), dangling between two cultures.
Will he be able to find a new modus to live? A way of reconciling the two forces in his existence? His death cuts short answers to these questions.
V.Y Mudimbe – L’ecart – 1979