In the Belly of the Congo: A Novel
A Brittle Paper Notable African Book of 2023
A gripping multigenerational novel that explores the history and human cost of colonialism in the Congo.
April 1958. Organizing the Brussels World’s Fair, the biggest international event since the end of the Second World War, subcommissioner Robert Dumont cedes to pressure from the royal palace: there will be a “Congolese village” in one of the seven pavilions devoted to the settlements. Among the eleven members of this “human zoo” assembled to put on a show at the foot of the Atomium is the young Tshala, daughter of the intractable king of the Bakuba. From her native Kasai to Brussels via Léopoldville, the princess’s journey unfolds—until her forced exhibition at Expo 58, where we lose track of her.
Summer 2004. Newly arrived in Belgium, a niece of the missing princess crosses paths with a man haunted by the ghost of his father—Francis Dumont, professor of law at the Free University of Brussels. A breathtaking series of events will reveal to them a secret the former subcommissioner of Expo 58 carried to his grave.
From one century to the next, In the Belly of the Congo confronts History with a capital “H” to pose the central question of the colonial equation: Can the past pass?
Praise for In the Belly of the Congo: A Novel
“Echoes of a suppressed past, subtle but highly charged writing, and random chance weave throughout the stories within stories that make up Blaise Ndala’s marvelous In the Belly of the Congo…compelling.” —Toronto Star
“Stimulating…Ndala digs deep into themes of love, colonialism, and fate.” —Publishers Weekly
“A profound and compelling novel, told on an epic scale. Shifting seamlessly between the vicious brutality of colonial rule and the poetry of love and connection, it celebrates the voices of resistance to oppression and prejudice. A central and powerful theme is the need and the search for truth about the past. This is a book for our times—and for people everywhere.” —Susan Williams, author of White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa
“Inside the belly of this masterfully crafted journey is a series of love stories reminiscent of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah in its love and study of community, people, and places. And with that much love comes a series of unflinching betrayals. Ndala’s work is exciting and heartbreaking in its exacting style. I left this book feeling deeply punctuated.” —Téa Mutonji, award-winning author of Shut Up You’re Pretty
“Dynamic, sensuous, and intensely alive, In the Belly of the Congo tells the story of two generations of remarkable women, each bearing the lingering scars of colonialism; each searching their histories and their futures for human dignity, for truth and reconciliation, ultimately for healing. In this his long-overdue debut in English, Blaise Ndala has crafted a novel of passion, insight, and relevance.” —C.S. Richardson, award-winning author of All the Colour in the World
“A harrowing story, beautifully told. Blaise Ndala’s searing depiction of the effects of Belgium’s mission civilisatrice in the Congo should send shivers of recognition down spines in any country shaped by European imperialism—including our own.” —Wayne Grady, author of Emancipation Day and The Good Father
“Ndala paints a compelling picture of his heroines…but as he moves between the 1950s and the early 2000s, he keeps his sights and his readers’ on the long-deferred reckoning of Belgium and Congo with their colonial past.” —Five Books, The Best Recent Novels from Francophone Africa
“A work that explores with panache the complexity of colonial and post-colonial relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Belgium…successful thanks to the talent of the author, who in a few sentences can take the reader from the darkest years of colonial history to the languor of Congolese rumba, from the intense pain of a punch in the stomach to the passion of a romantic relationship.” —Le Monde
“Blaise Ndala colorfully makes African history resonate.” —Le Point