Read African Writers: The Parachute Drop, by Norbert Zongo

parachute dropBurkina FasoNorbert Zongo, an investigative journalist from Burkina Faso, published his novel The Parachute Drop in 1988. He was assassinated ten years later for his journalism. Here’s a passage from the preface to his novel.

“Why did you write about the President?”
Despite the buzzing in my ears, I understood his question well enough.
“Who says I wrote anything?” I had the courage to say. “Where’s your proof?” …
“You are a dangerous subversive… Worse still, you are an anti-militarist radical, an extremist fanatic… If it’s proof you want, look at this…”
The gendarme dropped a large packet on the table. I read The Parachute Drop. It was a manuscript I had mailed some months earlier.

Then on the next page, the first page of the novel proper, Zongo lays out a powerful dichotomy:

A new day dawned: another reprieve for millions of the world’s afflicted. Another reprieve for millions of Africa’s unemployed and wretched. For these, the morning would bring yet more troubles, further miseries to add to their years and days of bitter toil. A reprieve for Africa’s teaming masses, as well as her more obscure wretches, those forgotten souls who languish in the filthy holes of our Founding Presidents and Clairvoyant Guides.

Another began: another day of incredible good luck for thousands of people for whom life has refused nothing, for Africa’s wealthy and educated, for those who believe it is perfectly normal to exploit their brothers and sisters, to treat their fellows like beasts of burden. Another day for Africa’s moral cripples.

As the story proceeds, Gouama — the “president” of Africa’s fictional republic of Watinbow and a terrible dictator — fears an attempted coup and takes decisive action against the purported engineers of the uprising. But all is not as it seems, and Gouama shortly finds himself on the run. Zongo’s novel is fast-paced, biting satire, peppered with dark humor. Highly recommended.  I read Christopher Wise’s translation into English. Wise also provides a preface which provides additional background.

Other reviews of The Parachute Drop:
  • Damien, Travel Readings blog: “The book written in 1988 is almost prescient.”
  • Ann Morgan, A Year of Reading the World: “This capacity to evoke empathy and celebrate the humanity of his enemies demonstrates Norbert Zongo’s outstanding qualities as a writer, journalist and human being.”
Other notable lines
  • “Virtual beggars on the international scene, these leaders spent enormous sums of money so they could travel about the world to vilify our people and barter our dignity for the sake of gaining foreign aid. This so-called aid has often been more of a nuisance than a help for our people.”
  • “It takes far more than a beret and a pistol to turn a fool into a wise man.”
  • “There is no real happiness for anyone unless there is happiness for everyone, for all of the people.”

This is book #22 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country in 2019.

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