It all starts with dazzling. That felt by the literary critic Boniface Mongo-Mboussa the day when, as a student in Leningrad in 1987, he discovered a poem in the pages of L’Humanité, the only French-language newspaper available in the USSR at the time:

“I am not going to die from the desire to change the world. The passionate games of patricidal wars are a guilty distraction for me, so much so that my salute to the earth that the sun discovers this morning is not as martial as I would like. I am getting out of bed. morning has the sun confusedIn the garden the petals fall on cold ashesAnd yet no petal is of blood (…)”.

The words are by the Congolese poet, novelist and playwright Tchicaya U Tam’si. Reading strikes the foreign student like love at first sight, as delicious as it is inexplicable. “I read the poem on the spot. Then took the metro to Nevsky Prospect. From that day on, I never stopped reading Tchicaya U Tam’si,” recalls Boniface Mongo-Mboussa.

After collecting the books of his favorite author, aligning them alongside Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky, the former literature student, now literary critic, sets out as an exegete in search of all the articles and archives available concerning his idol. He drew a portrait which restores its place in the pantheon of world literature, first published in 2014 by Vents d’ailleurs under the title Tchicaya U Tam’si, le rape de la lune.

An injured child

Combining biography and literary analysis, the essay resonates the work and trajectory of the writer in the context of the African political and cultural ferment from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. A story that brings new life to a somewhat forgotten author, yet recognized in his time to the point of having been mentioned in 1986 for the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature – the Swedish Academy awarded it that year to the Nigerian Wole Soyinka.

But who exactly was Tchicaya U Tam’si? First of all, an injured child, the critic explains. Born Gérald-Félix Tchicaya in 1931 in a Congo under French colonial domination, he was the natural son of a peasant woman and Jean-Félix Tchicaya, an “evolved” as they said horribly at the time. Trained at the William-Ponty Normal School of AOF, in Senegal, the latter successively pursued a career in teaching then administration. At the age of 4, Gérald-Félix was taken from his mother by his father who wanted to raise him in Pointe-Noire with his legitimate family and give him the opportunity to study. Unfortunately, he disappoints his brilliant father with his academic difficulties.

Upset by a second family migration to Paris this time, still in the wake of his father who became a deputy of the Fourth Republic, then by a third exile in a boarding school in Orléans, Gérald-Félix turns out to be a pitiful high school student, prey to the mixed horrors of distance, loneliness, physical disability and otherness. Aspiring to stand out from the crowd despite everything, he defiantly adopted, even before having written a line, the romantic posture of the poet: “At the Orléans high school (…), I was handicapped, I stayed in my corner. When you are alone, either you are crazy or you are a poet… So I became a poet,” he said.

His first texts, sparked by the colonial massacres that occurred in 1948 in Bobo-Dioulasso, salute the resistance of the populations which will lead to Ivorian independence. His father read a few lines to his colleague in the Assembly… Aimé Césaire himself. “Your son is a poet,” the latter decrees. What looks like a stroke of luck is undoubtedly a stroke of genius because this encouragement will be followed by a dubbing of the other co-founders of negritude, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon-Gontran Damas.

Outsider of letters

Gérald-Félix Tchicaya is launched. And too bad for his studies, which he stopped without having obtained his baccalaureate. To distinguish himself from his father, he became “U Tam’si”, “who speaks of the country” or even “a little leaf which sings for his country, in the Vili language”, a signature in reference to his Congo of origin, that he will never stop celebrating.

Likewise, the writer will voluntarily detach himself from his fathers and literary peers. “Therein lies its originality,” explains Boniface Mongo-Mboussa. At a time when most poets of his generation vigorously claim their Negro identity, Tchicaya U Tam’si defines himself as a poet and Congolese, before being Negro. »

In his own way, he invented an “exploded poetry, with a disjointed syntax” and multiplied the collections: Le Mauvais sang (1955), Feu de brousse (1957), A cheat-coeur (1958). On a professional level, attentive to political life, he embraced journalism, becoming in turn a literary presenter on the radio at Sorafom (future RFI), then editor of the politician Patrice Lumumba’s newspaper, Le Congo, in Léopoldville (today Kinshasa, capital of the former Belgian Congo which became the Democratic Republic of Congo).

He signed Arc musical, preceded by Epitomé (1962), in echo of the death of the Congolese political leader. His novels, published in the 1980s (Les Cockroaches, Les Méduses, Les Phalenes, Ces fruits so sweet of the breadfruit tree), brought him notoriety in Paris, where he joined UNESCO. Plays also highlight him and compare him to another newcomer to the Congolese literary scene: Sony Labou Tansi.

By taking us along in the wake of this literary outsider, son of a well-known political figure but seemingly out of nowhere, Boniface Mongo-Mboussa offers a broader vision of French-speaking literary history. Written with an erudite and alert pen, very documented and always accessible, Tchicaya U Tam’si, life and work of a cursed man is the essay of a critic, certainly, but above all of a passionate and sincere reader who is reads like one follows a suspenseful investigation. Mastery!