“I am black, of Swedish nationality, born in Congo and Tshiluba”, says Kayo Mpoyi when asked how to define it. god is a guyçwe black to eyeglasses, his first novel, received the Katapult Prize, the most prestigious award for a first novel in Sweden. Recognition, she also obtains it in France, where she appears in the first list of the price of the foreign novel.
Like her young heroine, Adi, the author was born in Zaire (now DRC) and lived in Tanzania. If she was inspired by real facts, she claims her share of fiction: “I did not intend to tell a true story. When the narrative demanded it, I deviated from reality. Even though they look like my family, all the characters are a fraction of what real people are, they serve a purpose. My goal is not to tell the repressed history of my family, it is impossible to fill the memory lapses, one can only turn around. “And Kayo Mpoyi to specify his intention and the urgency that animated it:” I speak of guilt and duty. It’s a story that compels me, I had to write it. »
The story is that of Adi, between 1989 and 1994 in Dar es-Salam (Tanzania). The family hearth is crushed by the father’s yoke, which reproduces the pattern he himself knew. “Misfortune pursues those who stand before their parents. I traced you and path, follow it, obey me and obey god, and you will be fine. His mother, whose religiosity is tinged with mysticism, also bends to traditional roles. Thus, when she interrupts Adi playing with her sister so that she cooks, “she says that one day, I will become a mother and that I will have to be able to cook for my children . »
But from the age of six, Adi questions this ready-made destiny: “It’s not fair to be forced to put up with anything and everything on the pretext that you are someone’s child. Imperceptibly, she follows in the footsteps of her big sister Dina. This sums up the vicious circle that has already scared away his elders, who have gone abroad: “You always say that the harm is not to obey. The ultimate evil, Mom, is that none of us have the right to be who we are. And then you say that’s what God wants for us. »
To exist, Adi explores his curiosities, his desires. Sometimes she bumps into the edges of this desire for the absolute. She is abused by the sinister Mr. Elephant, a neighbor who lures her with treats. To resist, Adi invents stories. She experiences the birth of her little sister Maï very badly, in fragile health, and imagines that she is a spirit. She invents a god for herself, a black boy with glasses.
Kayo Mpoyi develops: “The god of parents is a god who oppresses people. This god gives nothing, does not help. Adi is from the new generation, she has a place in the family that allows her to see God differently, as a comrade, as an ally. »
This relationship to the divine is the reflection of a broader spiral of oppression: “Oppression at the national level is the oppression found in the family. It is internalized and creates dualities: civilized versus savage, female versus male, white versus black, adult versus child, etc. These divisions are not natural, they are constructed. Adi is at the heart of all oppressions and wants to be able to escape the small boxes of assignments. »
Become a writer
To escape, Adi also has a dream, following a conversation with his mother. This scene is autobiographical: “I was six years old, I was reading the dictionary with my mother and she said to me: “Perhaps you will be a writer. The next day at school, I told everyone I was going to be a writer. That day changed my whole life. I was nine years old when we moved from Upanga (district of Dar es-Salaam), I told myself that I had to remember this place because it would be the place of one of my books. »
The little girl kept her word and her whole life revolved around this desire to write: “Later, I always said to myself that I had to to have another job to have the means to write. She gave herself the means to achieve her dream: “I started a school to become a writer. When you pass by there, the road to being published is easier because it is a renowned school. A professional read my texts. By the end of the year, I had only written 35 pages and thought the writing would go on for another five years. I was depressed, I wanted to burn the manuscript or throw it in the trash. So I set myself an exercise: write one sentence a day. Little by little, my novel took shape and, when I sent it, everything went faster than I thought. »
During his schooling, Kayo Mpoyi suffered racism: “I always chose paths where there were few foreigners and that caused surprise. You smell racism, even when people don’t necessarily mean the wrong thing. I was part of a literary program, in selected books, there was the “n word”. The problem is that editorial boards don’t think to question the classics. »
Denial also affects history: “In Sweden, they don’t ask me questions about colonialism. The Swedes think they never took part. Now, in the Congo, the Belgians, the Italians and the Swedes were the three major groups. The Swedes were missionaries, soldiers and civil servants. There are many Congolese works in ethnographic museums in Sweden. We hardly talk about it at school, unlike in Belgium, for example. »
Racism and Sweden have rarely been associated. But the rise of the extreme right, led by Jimmie Åkesson, whose discourse is openly anti-immigration, has changed the situation. His recent electoral success in the 2022 legislative elections inspires concern: “I was very sad, like all my friends. The extreme right is against everything but has no solutions. His program is a disaster, it only aims to break. The Swedes fell asleep on their achievements, they thought that their advantages were there forever. »
When she arrived in Sweden, Kayo Mpoyi remembers being very surprised that her friends’ parents asked for their children’s opinion, contrary to what she had experienced in Tanzania: “I had never seen that! I did not understand. We teach critical thinking at school, we can take the time to think, that’s what allows me to write. It is fortunate that the journey of this talented young writer has given birth to a novel about a family whose relations of domination tell the story of the society in which they are part. An ode to freedom, against oppression.
God is a black boy with glasses by Kayo Mpoyi, translated from Swedish by Anna Gibson (ed. La belle étoile, 300 p., 21,90€)