Its ebullient humour recalls Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty, Mabanckou’s fictionalised autobiography of growing up in the 1970s under a Marxist-Leninist regime. Yet unlike in that buoyantly mischievous child’s-eye satire, the laughter here has an undertow of grief, outrage and survivor’s guilt ... [a] picaresque tour-de-force ... Mabanckou’s indignation at times recalls Wizard of the Crow, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s grotesque satire on dictatorship and kleptocracy – together with its spirit of resistance and hope of salvation. Yet there is also a touching personal homage in this retelling of the lives of some of those unable to escape the asylum.
The narrator of Black Moses is among the most heartbreaking of Mabanckou’s creations ... Deftly translated by Helen Stevenson, Black Moses abounds with moments of dark humor, but the levity is balanced by Mabanckou’s portrait of a dysfunctional society rent by corruption, poverty, political instability and tribal rivalries. Underlying the narrative is a bitter sense of irony: This black Moses is no agent of deliverance; he’s just another lost soul wandering the streets of a hardscrabble town, with no promised land in sight.
The first-person narration in this long [first] section is a somewhat uneasy blend of boarding-school drama joined up to excurses on Congolese social life and ethnic tensions; the reader feels the point of view blur between that of the boy Moses and the adult who looks back upon boyhood ... When the good Maman and her business are eviscerated by a corrupt politician’s clean-up drive, Little Pepper is orphaned once more—and this time it is too much for him...It is here, for the first time in the book, that Mr. Mabanckou’s narration rings with a beautiful poetry, notes not on a madcap world but a private universe of genuine madness and misanthropy ... One could argue that with Black Moses Mr. Mabanckou has exhausted the possibilities of a certain scattershot narrative method. Despite the promise of the material, he often cannot prevent his storytelling here from lapsing into mere mannerism. The confessional first-person narration, the walk-on monologues of minor characters, the slangy dialogue sprinkled with exclamation marks, all seem a little hungover.