Cover image for Little boys come from the stars
Little boys come from the stars
Dongala, Emmanuel Boundzéki, 1941-
Uniform Title:
Petits garçons naissent aussi des étoiles. English
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
Physical Description:
246 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Sardonic, subtle, and sweetly scathing, Little Boys Come from the Stars is satire at its best. Set in an unnamed country in equatorial Africa, it tells the story of Michel, a precocious teen dubbed Matapari (" trouble" ) because of his extraordinary birth. Though his father is a reclusive scholar, his mother a pious though confused Catholic, and his uncle a shameless opportunist determined to gain power in the shifting politics of their post-colonial nation, Matapari remains an unsullied child who wears Reeboks, drinks Coke, reads Japanese comics, and watches "Rambo," But when his family becomes the nucleus of the revolution for democracy, Matapari proves to be the ideal narrator for this story of violent upheaval and bloody corruption- a voice whose ironic innocence makes bearable and even humorous the awful realities of the world it describes.

Author Notes

Emmanuel Dongala was a lifelong resident of Brazzaville, capital of the Congo Republic, until he left the country amid civil war in 1997. He teaches at Simon's Rock of Bard College and lives in western Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

He's called Matapari--trouble--and this young teen begins his tale by telling of his birth, two days after his twin brothers, in the Congo Republic. This sometimes ribald novel is a screamingly funny political satire, but thanks to Dongala's supple language, it is never reductive. His narrator is an expansive storyteller, seducing and disarming with tale after tale: of his uncle, who moves from second in command to political prisoner; of his father, the schoolteacher, ever reading and studying but caught in his brother-in-law's intrigues; of his mother, who studies the priest and the ancestors with equal attention. Matapari's voluble gift is to tie the artifacts of contemporary world culture--from Coca Cola to Michael Jackson to Rambo videos--together with the local stories of corrupt politics and unrest (their banal familiarity despite the exotic locale is terrifying). But always he is unsettlingly funny, whether quoting from Carl Sagan or Karl Marx. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

As far as the 14-year-old hero of this delightful, satirical African novel is concerned, his small Congolese town is the center of the universe. Precocious and mischievous MatapariÄa nickname that means "problem child"Äcomes of age in a time of tumultuous change, witnessing the uneven results of governmental programs (rigged agricultural fairs, ceremonies and speeches) as well as experiencing the joys of childhood and adolescence (Coca-Cola, his first crush). Young Matapari's father, the village teacher, is a distracted man more interested in reading scholarly journals than in day-to-day issues; his mother's brother, Uncle Boula Boula, is a Party flack who rises through the ranks in the postcolonial years. Matapari's often hilarious first-person narrative affords an honest look at the maneuverings and corruption of adultsÄrevealed particularly through their conversations with children. About halfway through, the book veers onto an extended political track, when the government erupts into turmoil: Boula Boula is arrested and subjected to a lengthy sham trial, and Matapari's father leads an uprising for democracy. A wiser Matapari begins to understand the contradictions of the adult world when new, "democratic" candidates campaign in his town. Though Dongala sometimes wedges historical information and family asides into improbable spots, Matapari is an independent, intelligent and enterprising guide who effectively links a country's coming-of-age with his own. His keen and comic voice is refreshing and will appeal to readers interested in a youthful and contemporary African point of view. (Mar.) Forecast: Dongala, a distinguished novelist from the Congo Republic, was evacuated from his war-torn native country and settled in the U.S. with the help of an international group of writers, including Philip Roth. His dramatic history and the dynamism of this novel should garner lively review attention. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Along with The Fire of Origins, recently published by Lawrence Hill, this novel marks the English-language debut of Congolese writer Dongala. Set against the tumultuous political activity of the Congo Republic over the past 20 years, the story describes the coming of age of a boy named Michel, whose nickname, Matapari, literally means "trouble." Over the course of the loosely structured narrative, we watch Matapari and his country undergo the growing pains of independence while we are also made privy to Dongala's satirical take on the ambition, corruption, violence, and downright idiocy of politics and politicians. This is familiar territory, however. In the tradition of Grass and RushdieDparticularly Midnight's Children, to which this bears a conspicuous resemblanceDDongala aims to swallow and then encapsulate the recent history of his beleaguered nation in the life of a young boy. Yet aside from a few brief moments of lyricism and humor, the writing is dull and the plot not that compelling. In addition, the overly pronounced political criticism may seem patronizing to some readers. Recommended only for African literature collections. [Formerly dean of Brazzaville University in the Congo Republic, Dongala fled his country in 1997 and currently lives and teaches in Massachusetts.DEd.]DHeath Madom, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



  I was almost never born. I almost never got to chase after a ray of light trying to catch it, almost never discovered those strange regions where dreams come to life and play before scampering along to sleeping minds. I almost never felt Aledia's breast behind the lantana bushes that scratched us as we passed. Honestly, I was almost never born. Maman left the hospital with me still in her womb. She always swore up and down that she didn't do it on purpose, forever repeating in her meek voice: How could I have imagined, Matapari my son, that, after the twins came out of my belly, there was a third child tucked away somewhere in there, in the depths of my gut? The doctor was the first to ask Maman to leave her hospital bed and go home, and Mama Kossa the midwife assured her that it was all over and that she could go; then Papa, at once proud and worried about having brought twins into the world (troublesome children, hard to raise), had also rushed her back home. That's how she went home, forgetting me in her belly. From what my uncle Boula Boula told me, it was only two whole days later, while sitting on a bamboo stool washing the twins' diapers, that Maman felt pains strangely similar to the ones she'd felt during labor. She ignored them as much and as long as she could, thinking it was a passing post-birth thing; she had no experience in these matters since this had been her first time giving birth. She left the diapers alone and lay down on the foam pad she had set over a mat on the living room floor. Nothing doing, she was still hurting. No doubt about it, these were the contractions of a delivery--though it seemed impossible. By the ancestors' memory, no one ever heard of a woman carrying more than two children. In a panic, she called for Mama Kossa, the official village midwife. Mama Kossa arrived lively as ever, always in a hurry as if chased by the spirit of an ancestor who had died abruptly, displacing behind her huge volumes of air, which, momentarily imprisoned in the vast folds of her boubou, then escaped in big violent gusts worthy of a Category 5 tropical storm. And yet, like the eye of the storm, her face always stayed calm and serene with its jet black eyes whose shiny depths scared off owls, drove sorcerers to suicide, and protected newborns. She brought that mystical pouch she always had whenever she visited a woman about to give birth, a bag that contained everything: herbs, medicinal plants, liniments, disposable syringes, vials, powders, and even antibiotics, since she practiced both traditional and modern medicine. She knew how to prepare potions to drive off evil spirits, just as she knew how to set up an IV drip. On top of her indisputable knowledge, Mama Kossa had a certain prestige in the eyes of the locals that the other midwives didn't, because she came from far away. No one knew where exactly. She had settled here twenty or thirty years ago, and many thought she was from Oubangui-Chari, from one of those tribes along a northern branch of one of the tributaries of the mighty Congo, from one of those tribes that had mastered forces our people here had no idea about, tribes that had nothing to learn even from the Pygmies. And since no one knew exactly which tribe she came from, local sorcerers and fetish makers feared her, and woe to the evil eye that dared go after a child delivered by Mama Kossa! And so she came like a whirlwind. She knelt, wiped Maman's sweaty forehead, and gave her a probing look. I have pains, Maman said, moaning. I feel like I'm going to give birth again. Nonsense, Mama Kossa firmly replied. Have you ever seen a woman carry three, four children like a litter of pups? But Maman continued to protest forcefully and writhe in pain. Suddenly, Mama Kossa thought again, felt Maman's lower abdomen, then brought her hand just above the belly button, spread her palm, and began to concentrate. At that moment, I must have given a nice kick to make my presence felt, because according to witnesses (since I was still tucked away in the folds of my mother's womb), Mama Kossa's legendary calm face became a hurricane: Incredible! . . . she's going into labor . . . Never saw such a thing . . . Holà Maria, run quick, fetch wood, and make a big fire to heat up a big bucket of water . . . Mabiala, you run to the hospital, go tell the doctor that the teacher's wife is having a third child . . . No no, he won't believe you, he'll send you packing, tell him instead that Mama Kossa is with a woman whose water's broken and who may give birth on the road if we go to the hospital . . . She was digging in her bag as she was talking, pulling out compresses, flasks, needles. Yengo, run and get her husband, quick, tell him that his wife, the mother of his twins, needs her husband straightaway. You have to figure luck was not on my side, because I had picked the wrong day to set my eyes on this world. It was the fifteenth of August: not only was this date important in itself as our national holiday, but it was August 15, 1980, the twentieth anniversary of our Independence, which made the holiday more than exceptional. It was my uncle who helped me understand the importance of this day of rejoicing in a country where everything was an excuse to party. He explained to me that our country had once been occupied by white people, who had arrived here by accident on ships whose sails had been pushed by the tropical winds toward the African coast. The white people then began systematically scouring our coastland and even our inland regions, stealing people and selling them as slaves; that's why there are blacks in the United States today, and why Cassius Clay, alias Muhammad Ali, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and not in Poto-Poto, a neighborhood in Brazzaville. Then there were missionaries who came to chase our ancestors out of their graves, out of the groves and rivers, and out of the huts they inhabited, to replace them with Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the cross; and the armed men who came along with them and installed themselves. In these parts, they were French. They ruled over us, ran the country, exploited us, taught us their language, sent us to their schools, and gave us new ancestors called Gauls. That's why we still speak French, love French food, and still like to spend our vacations in France, even if these days it is easier to get a visa to the moon than to that country. These French so exploited us that twenty years ago we revolted against this exploitation called colonialism and became independent, that is, masters of our destiny. But since we couldn't get rid of everything they'd brought with them, things we'd lived with for a century, we made our ancestors come back while keeping Jesus, the Bible, and the cross; we kept their language along with ours, as well as their clothing, red wine, Brie, and baguettes. It was as if we were reborn from two roots. Unfortunately, the three or four leaders who took over from the French kept obeying these same French and other whites, having sold out to what my uncle called imperialism and neocolonialism. That's why the young military men overthrew these leaders in a series of coups d'etat, killed them off, and took over. But these army men weren't any better, and so other army men plotted and overthrew them, and so on and so forth, until this day of my unexpected birth on the twentieth anniversary of the day that one of these military men (again, according to my uncle, who told me all these things) set up a "revolutionary" system based on something called scientific socialism, with Uncle Boula Boula serving for a time as one of its most important officials. He didn't tell me what that meant exactly but explained enough to indicate that this was something completely new, a definitive break with slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism. They changed our country's name, anthem, and flag, and our models became countries called Communist. A star, hammer, and hoe were put on the flag turned crimson. "People's" was added to the name of every state institution, including the National Library. Folks couldn't pray, read, sing, think, or travel without the prior approval of the Chief of State, by virtue of the surveillance agencies he controlled. In short, red became the new fetish: people were to die for the red flag, one had to be red in order to be thought competent at work; the national soccer team, as well as the public squares and high schools, were afflicted with red. So it was the twentieth red anniversary that was being celebrated, when I, a forgotten child, was struggling heroically to leave my mother's belly. Our house, it must be said, was pretty far from the official district buildings, especially the town hall, where the festivities took place, so Yengo arrived there out of breath, his feet dirty and a bit swollen, since he'd chosen to run off without his plastic sandals. Although there was a huge crowd, Papa wasn't hard to find. He was standing on a carpeted platform reading an important message. Now that I'm fifteen and telling you the story of my birthday the way Uncle Boula Boula told it, you can't imagine the importance a teacher had in the village back then; he was second only to the chief of police, who was the political red eyes and ears of the government. But as for competence, knowledge, prestige--these things belonged to the teacher. My father even told me that his father still remembered the name of his first elementary school teacher. That's why my father stood on this red platform decorated with the portrait of the President wearing his captain's stripes. My father, tie tightly knotted, in dark jacket and pants, surrounded by dignitaries, was reading the opening speech. Yengo didn't know how to proceed: how was he to get through this crowd, and then how was he supposed to convince the people in charge of protocol that he had an important message to deliver to this no less important teacher? Luckily, Uncle Boula Boula appeared as if by magic next to Yengo. He wondered why this poor boy was in such a state. After talking to the boy, he realized it was an emergency and made his way toward Papa, who had just finished his speech and was bowing his head before the applause. Uncle Boula Boula, sensing the time was right, began whispering in the right ear of my father's bowed head: everyone saw Papa's eyes open wide in astonishment, and then he collapsed little by little, in slow motion, as in a movie or an instant replay, his hands grabbing at the portrait of the Captain on the way down. The crowd kept clapping as he tumbled and as the heavy ebony frame that held the presidential portrait fell on his skull with a thud. So Papa fainted, knocked out cold by the Chief of State and maybe somewhat by the news of my birth. Excerpted from Little Boys Come from the Stars by Emmanuel Dongala All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.