As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth
These compelling poems by novelist and essayist Alain Mabanckou conjure nostalgia for an African childhood where the fauna, flora, sounds, and smells evoke snapshots of a life forever gone. Mabanckou’s poetry is frank and forthright, urging his compatriots to no longer be held hostage by the civil wars and political upheavals that have ravaged their country and to embrace a new era of self-determination where the village roosters can sing again.
These music-infused texts, beautifully translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson and supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, appear together in English for the first time. In these pages, Mabanckou pays tribute to his beloved mother, as well as to the regenerative power of nature, and especially of trees, whose roots are a metaphor for the poet’s roots, anchored in the red earth of his birthplace. Mabanckou’s yearning for the land of his ancestors is even more poignant because he has been declared persona non grata in his homeland, now called Congo-Brazzaville, due to his biting criticism of the country’s regime. Despite these barriers, his poetry exudes hope that nature’s resilience will lead humankind on the path to redemption and reconciliation.
‘Much of the poetry in As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth and Other Poems exhibits a muscular, incantatory power, as if it indeed is pouring forth from its sources, with Mabanckou as the conduit lightly shaping but not taming its flow . . . Nancy Naomi Carlson’s sensitive and painstaking translations of this powerful, important writer are a boon to anyone interested in the world of Francophone letters. As in her other work, here Carlson deliberately seeks to mimic the music of the original French in her English renditions of the text.’—Katherine E. Young, Los Angeles Review of Books. Read the full review here.
‘It’s a great gift to anglophone readers to have available now the third and fourth of the poem-series that followed Manackou’s epiphany, as well as the Open Letter, thanks to Nancy Naomi Carlson and Seagull. Mabanckou’s craft has no need to vaunt itself. Words are woven with a precision and economy that makes punctuation unnecessary. There is a complex simplicity to these evocative, brief messages from the wanderer, whether he is witnessing the destruction caused by African brothers fighting brothers, or remembering the life of schoolboys’—Kai Maristed, Arts Fuse. Read the full review here.
‘The dense imagery of these poems, which lack titles and punctuation, is rooted in nature, filled with rivers, hills, and lantana fields, while also bearing the imprint of human aggression . . . The poems in this collection expose the high toll of violence in Africa, where wars have “wounded the ventricles / of the homeland.” At the same time, these poems shine a light on a world that is not so much forgotten as it is displaced, a world in which poetry breathes with life.’—Rebecca Ruth Gould, Poetry Foundation. Read the full review here.
Praise for Alain Mabanckou:
‘Africa’s Samuel Beckett . . . one of the continent’s greatest living writers.’―Guardian
‘His voice is vividly colloquial, mischievous and . . . outrageous.’—Marina Warner, Man International Booker Prize judge
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