The narrator of the book I read for the Republic of the Congo is a man known to the locals as “Broken Glass,” which is also the book’s title. Being a regular patron of a bar called Credit Gone West, he has been given a notebook by the owner of the bar and asked to write in it. The bar owner doesn’t put much stock in the spoken word, and thinks that by having Broken Glass write things down, Credit Gone West won’t vanish from people’s memories one day. Broken Glass begins by writing bawdy and fairly graphic stories about a few of the bar’s patrons in the first part of the book.
It was the last part of the book I found more compelling, however, because it is there that Broken Glass begins to write about himself. The reader learns that he is sixty-four years old, and that he was once married. His appetite for red wine, however, has cost him his marriage. He used to be a teacher, a calling that he loved, but his alcoholism led him to do many unacceptable things in the classroom until he was finally fired. Sometimes when he writes about the days before he lost everything he valued, he prefaces his reflections with the phrase, “… when I was a man like all the rest…”.
Broken Glass used to love to read, and talks about how he has “… traveled widely, without ever leaving my own native soil, I’ve traveled, one might say, through literature…”. In fact, he peppers his writing with frequent book references, ranging from Doctor Zhivago to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to Snares Without End and many others. He is a mostly self-educated man, with a curiosity about people and places. Unfortunately, he has not found a way, aside from red wine, to deal with the one thing that has always tormented him, his mother’s death by drowning in the Tchinouka River.
The author of Broken Glass, Alain Mabanckou, has taken many liberties with punctuation and capitalization in this book, giving it an almost stream-of-consciousness feeling. I was afraid I would find this style of writing distracting, but the book held my interest throughout.
No one in Broken Glass ate anything I wanted to cook, so I had to once again do a Google search. I found a website I’ll have to remember for future blog posts, the International Vegetarian Union’s “Recipes Around the World” page. The recipe I chose from the Republic of the Congo was called Veggie Sauce Z’ara or Veggies in Peanut Sauce. Basically, it’s sautéed eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and carrots in peanut sauce, served over rice or pasta. I made the mistake of grabbing my eating peanut butter, complete with sugar, rather than my cooking peanut butter, which is just ground-up peanuts, so the dish turned out a little sweeter than I would have liked.
Giving may have been my favorite part of this blog post, because although GlobalGiving.org only had one nonprofit organization listed for the Republic of the Congo, it was the one I would have picked even if there had been a hundred organizations to choose from. Primatologist and environmental champion Jane Goodall has been one of my heroes for a long time, so I was happy to contribute to the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center for the care of orphaned chimpanzees. According to the project description, the “chimpanzees, victims of the illegal commercial bush meat trade, often arrive at the sanctuary sick, malnourished, and close to death. Under the skillful care of Tchimpounga's dedicated staff, these chimpanzees receive a second chance at life.” More information about the project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/help-feed-over-150-orphaned-chimpanzees/.
NEXT STOP: COSTA RICA