The way back
the JJ Bola
Translated from English by Johan-Frédérik Hel Guedj
Mercure de France, 320p, €24
Death, announced, prowls from start to finish, until the final pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, a few corpses dot this leaping novel about a fall. That of Michael Kabongo, a young London teacher originally from the Congo, who sinks into despondency and escapes across the Atlantic with the idea of ending it, as soon as he would have spent there “the economy of a life” : 9 021 dollars.
The flight and then the wandering Yankees, from San Francisco to New York via Dallas and Chicago, give rise to chapters evoking Michael in the third person singular and ending with the countdown of the dwindling savings. First-person chapters are interspersed, replaying, like in a film, scenes from Michael’s London past. Between this “he” and this “I”, the protagonist becomes ours. Its weariness overwhelms us, its energy invigorates us: it is there, close at hand. And this, especially since the author, JJ Bola, a gifted writer without abusing it, lenient but never fooled, inserts into his text other contemporary written expressions in which we are immersed: emails and text messages.
A poetry of the depths and everyday life emerges that halos the initiatory run of a suicidal hero. The reasons for ending it are those that weigh on so many exiles, suffering as we say of packages: “It’s very difficult to get to know someone. » Michael walled himself in a shell of oblative pain: “I have always kept everyone at a distance, in respect, without ever opening up, without ever letting anyone in. Not because I’m afraid of emotions, of being hurt, or of my vulnerability, but because deep down I always knew I wanted to die, and it was a way to spare them the pain. and the torment they would endure when I died. »
All of JJ Bola’s art, as admirable as it is effective, consists in shaking up his character with a resolute, bold, invigorating writing – like the licks that certain mammals lavish on their newborns to push them into the flood. of the living. Words and sentences, streaked with poetry, recklessness, endurance, transform a planned destruction into a fortuitous parturition. Women have a strange and delicious regenerating power there, in this world where everyone finds themselves trapped by their appearance, their accent, their dress, but where caress without borders is queen and where sometimes a very unexpected hope arises with tomorrow. In New York, finally, Michael “is blown in the wind like dandelion seeds. Here, he feels seized and his presence desired.
JJ Bola gracefully points out possible escape routes, not without bitterly denoting the walls that the black-skinned expatriate comes up against: “The problem with the West is that it creates the Other, and then it resents you for being that Other; he harbors a prejudice against you, for something out of his imagination. »
Passing from the weight of the unique identity assigned to the liberation of plural affiliations freely conquered, Michael frees himself from modern or archaic fears, from dark pessimism, from infertile anger, in favor of an impalpable trophy, which forms the last three words from the novel: “Generous breathing. »