NOT TO BE MISSED
"La tentation d'Adam", a novel by Andagui BONGO AYOUMA
Libreville: Editions AMAYA, 2008. (192p.).
Ce compte rendu en français
Like his distant biblical ancestor, young Adam was born on a small patch of African paradise; and like his forefather, he soon discovers temptation. Against the best advice of his father, he embarks on a quest for knowledge and understanding that takes him from Eden to Earth's faraway nations: Nasdaquie, Marasme, War Game, Sodome la Belle and New Babylone. As the journey of the young man progresses across Earth, he comes face to face with the harsh reality of people subjugated by violence, money, profit and the tyranny of conformity. The vain pursuits of Earth's inhabitants do not make sense to him; nor do they to the people he encounters. This entertaining and thought provoking tale is definitely challenging readers into looking beyond finger-pointing and to gauge the soundness of their own individual answer to the dire situation the world finds itself in.
After leaving the blessed harmony of Eden, Adam lands first in Nasdaquie, a technologically advanced society that lives by the motto "In Nasdaq we trust" (p.56). After a quick brush with the garbage men cleansing the Nation, he reaches a grey and cold megalopolis dominated by a forest of gigantic buildings that "invaded, disfigured, obscured, smoked out and choked the sky" (p.52). "People exhibiting their personal identification barcodes swarm on the pavements by the thousands. They are very busy, constantly checking their electronic bracelets, micro-computers, transmitter-receivers called "nasdophones" that not only link everyone to law enforcement agencies and the Presidium, twenty four hours a day, but also communicate to them useful information at any point in time" (p.53). For the readers, whose every move can be tracked down through their mobile phone, whose personal details and fingerprints can be accessed from of the chip imbedded in their passport and, whose email messages are routinely checked by Big Brother, the Nasdaquiens appear to be very close cousins: maybe too close for comfort as they bring back to memory de La Fontaine's celebrated fable, "The wolf and the dog", that contrasts the respective price of freedom and servitude.
Whatever good has come out of Nasdaquian scientific discoveries, it has been overshadowed by people's loss of freedom, disregard for basic human values, "skilful ignorance" (p.67) and lack of empathy with others (p.67). These humanoids, Adam concludes, have lost their connection with the Almighty and grown into androids, endlessly chasing profit and crushing, without the blink of an eye, everyone who appears to be in their way. Not a place in which Adam is keen to stay for very long and, like Jean de La Fontaine's mythical wolf, he makes an early exit and keeps running with vigilantes, keen to free their beautiful country from the rabble, hot on his heals.
When he arrives out of breath in Sodome la Belle, he soon realises that the place where he has just landed is, to all intents and purposes, only offering its citizens a similar version of totalitarianism and delusion he has just left. Obsessed with beauty, Sodome's inhabitants have remodelled the nation to suit their fanciful devotion to appearance and promiscuity. Plastic surgery, artificial beauty and eternal youth reign supreme in an environment dominated by fornication, viagra, artificial flowers and a devotion to genetically modified food. Furthermore, their commitment to a twisted interpretation of the ideal of peace and love conceals the most sinister social engineering and eugenics, as Adam soon discovers when he asks a peroxide blonde Venus: "Don't you have any ugly, sick, handicapped or old people among you?" (p.85). The femme fatale's answer is unambiguous: "We hate ugliness as much as disease, deformity, senility and obesity ... all these ills are strictly forbidden by law and severely punished, as they should be ... the vermin is pitilessly eliminated by our law enforcement officers" (p.85).
Upon leaving Sodome, shuddering and disheartened, Adam has only one wish: to return home, but his odyssey on earth is not yet over. The crumbling walls of Guérilla City are visible on the horizon and as he approaches, somewhat puzzled, the seemingly deserted town, he realises that it has been reduced to a field of ruins. A big explosion and bullets whistling around him cut short his cogitation and compel him to focus his attention towards finding somewhere to hide. The appearance, from nowhere, of an unit of child- soldiers not even ten years old, from God's Army, armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated weapons produced in Nasdaquie, provides him with an opportunity to enquire about the situation. In between two salvos, Terminator agrees to answers his questions, but his answers remain pretty vague and dismissive: "Only a stranger would ask such silly questions, he says ... We live in War Game and we have been fighting from the dawn of time" (p.102). And when Adam naively asks if they could recommend a place where he could find a bit of peace and quiet, everyone bursts into laughter and then parts company with their interlocutor. No sooner have they left than Adam finds himself surrounded by the opposite side, is accused of spying and nearly executed on the spot by Gladiator, a giant nicknamed Throat-cutter who provides him with no better information about the reason for the fighting than the young Terminator: "We are the sons of God, he says; we are fighting against the infidels. It is our duty to free Guérilla City, our sacred city, and to get rid of all those pagans" (p.106). It is obvious that War Game is in the grip of never-ending and pointless infighting that has brought the nation to its knees, devastated the civilian population and serves no one's interest except those of Nasdaquie's arms dealers and mercenaries, selling their lethal skills to each side of the conflict in alternation.
Horrified by so much ferocity and brutality, Adam is quite relieved to leave behind the mayhem of God-blessed surgical strikes and collateral damage (p.117). Breathing a sigh of relief, he eventually arrives in a paradisiacal country: one reminding him of the Eden of his birth. But the illusion is short-lived and by the time he reaches the capital Marasmia, he knows that Earth is offering him once again an unbearable spectacle of anguish, suffering and wretchedness. Starving people are cursing the day they were born, blaming their ancestors for their present predicament and accusing God of abandoning them to their fate. The prevalent moral and physical despondency that infects the population makes it an easy prey to foreign propaganda and local charlatans purporting to "Restore Hope" (p.126). Dubious scientific experiments, exploitative commercial activities and proselytism dominate the scene. Unscrupulous operators are plundering the country in the name of cooperation, perverting its social fabric. Simultaneously "caravanes de la redemption" recruiting new converts for foreign churches are distributing food aid and promising a direct line to Paradise to those prepared to follow their self-appointed leader. Keen to probe further their invitation, Adam follows the preachers to their home country.
In reality, the guru who welcomes him upon his arrival in New Babylone is not the benevolent man Adam was expecting. And once the heavy gate of the sect's compound closes behind him, he finds himself the prisoner of a greedy mob of racketeers. Leaving the place proves a challenge, but when the young man eventually manages to escape and to find his way back to Eden, he does not find the country he left earlier. His paradise has been lost and he finds himself in a country reminiscent of the ones he has come across throughout his journey; countries where people are free to chose what they want to do, but where they have to pay a heavy price for both submissiveness and insubordination. As Adam discovers anew, "it is very easy to forget the very essence of human existence" (p.229). Brainwashed from childhood, Earth's inhabitants hold fast to their belief that they have been put on this earth to rule the world, thus engaging in fratricidal wars of attrition that no one seems to be able to either explain or justify.
Debunking stereotypical ideas and well established human claims to wisdom has always been the quintessential purpose of philosophical tales. La tentation d'Adam is no exception to the rule. Rather than definitive answers and overall solutions to the world's predicaments, readers will find in this book an invitation to probe the main character's innocent and yet inquisitive look at who we think we are. In an interview, Andagui Bongo Ayouma said that she wrote La tentation d'Adam "to make people think and bring their own beliefs into question". I have no doubt it will.
1. It ought to be a precious price
Which could to servile chains entice;
For me, I'll shun them while I've wit.'
So ran Sir Wolf, and runneth yet.
2. Pierre Eric Mbog Batassi. "Andagui Bongo Ayouma : « 'La tentation d'Adam' ou la quête spirituelle » Afric.com. 27 juin 2008. http://www.afrik.com/article14634.html. [Sighted 24 September 2009]
The University of Western Australia/School of Humanities