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Sony Labou Tansi: L’anté-peuple (The Antipeople)

Nitu Dadou is a respected figure in Zaire. He is the head of a teaching training college for young women and a model citizen. He is thirty-nine years old and happily married with two sons. He has a chauffeur-driven car. His only foible seems to be to use the world moche all the time, a word that means ugly when applied to a person but something like lousy when applied to a situation. As a result the trainee teachers nickname him Mr. Moche but admit he has no other failing. However, one of the trainee teachers, Yavelde, attracts his attention and he finds himself drawn to her. When he is invited to a party which he knows she will be attending, he goes. He dances both with her and with her cousin, Yealdara. He also gets seriously drunk and throws up.

From this time on, he starts sliding down the slippery slope. He takes to drink. He frequents a local bar, the Magistrat, where the owner plies him with all sorts of exotic cocktails. He starts coming to work late. Yavelde is also miserable. When she is rude to a teacher, the teacher takes her to Dadou. Dadou tries to persuade the teacher to let her off but the teacher boldly says that the only reason he is asking him to let her off is because Dadou is sleeping with her (which is not the case). Things get worse when Yavelde dies, either from suicide or a botched abortion, and Dadou is blamed. He is arrested and thrown into jail. Yealdara visit him regularly and, eventually, a plot is hatched for him to escape. But escape is not going to improve his life. He flees to the Republic of Congo where he is suspected of belonging to a terrorist group. Yealdara does what she can to help him.

The story of Dadou is almost Kafkaesque. While Dadou must take some of the blame, he did not sleep with Yavelde and certainly did not kill her. Yet his punishment is extreme. That Labou Tansi is making a point about how grim life is in Africa if you even vaguely stray from the strait and narrow is clear. The problems of racism and crossing frontiers and the interminable civil wars are also brought home. There is little redemption for poor Nitu Dadou and, presumably not much for his compatriots in a country that has long suffered. Labou Tansi pulls no punches to make this point.

Publishing history

First published in French 1983 by Editions du Seuil
First English translation by Marion Boyars in 1987
Translated by J.A. Underwood