Max Lobe and the language of joy

Max Lobe: “La Trinité bantoue” (in French only), éditions Zoé, Geneva 2014. 208 pages.

In 2010, when the Swiss people were called upon to vote on a federal popular initiative entitled “For the deportation of foreign criminals”, posters displayed by the majority party on which white sheep chased a black sheep out of Switzerland’s borders could be seen everywhere. In Max Lobe’s latest novel, “La Trinité bantoue”, the same posters adorn the walls of “Helvetia”. This small country at the heart of Europe strangely resembles the Switzerland we know and it is here that the narrator Mwána lives. Originally from an imaginary African country, Bantouland, he lives in poverty in Geneva with his friend Ruedi. They have difficulty making ends meet, as Mwána lost his job as soon as he finished studying. His applications never come to anything. Ruedi, unemployed, refuses to accept any help from his family in Graubünden. Fortunately, Monga Míngá, Mwána’s mother, sends them food from Bantouland – “cassava pancakes, cassava and more cassava”. But not for very long: Monga Míngá, diagnosed with throat cancer, comes to Helvetia for medical treatment, staying in Lugano where Mwána’s very Catholic sister, Kosambela, lives. “Misery is knocking hard at our door,” laments Mwána, who will not give in. With a joyful spirit and inventive use of language, he chooses to laugh about the xenophobic climate prevailing in Helvetia where skinheads disrupt 1 August celebrations on the Rütli meadow. But something more tragic lies beneath the salutary laughter – the hard-to-imagine misery that plagues this country, often invisibly and silently. Max Lobe looks at unemployment, charity organisations, social welfare and the sense of shame associated with it with a deep sense of humanity and sharp observation to reveal the antechamber to the idyllic and wealthy Switzerland.

Max Lobe casts a sharp eye on the time in which he lives, using a language that reveals the constant search for identity. Dreamed up, warm and powerful, Max Lobe’s language draws upon many sources – German, Swiss German, Italian, various forms of French and African tongues. All of these languages sit side by side, clatter together and complement one another to provide an open outlook on the world, forging links between Bantouland and Helvetia. This language also represents a means of not giving in to the silence ­imposed on Monga Míngá by her illness.

Romain Buffat

Comments (0)

Write new comment

Comments are approved within one to three days. The editorial team reserves the right not to publish discriminatory, racist, defamatory or inflammatory comments. Our detailed comment rules are available here.

The Alps – as well as other mountain ranges – were first regarded as aesthetically appealing and “noble” during the course of the 18th century. Caspar...

Read more

The once gigantic fortifications in the Swiss Alps have been taken out of military use. But their legend lives on. ­The previously top secret bunkers...

Read more

They are highly talented, very determined and 15 to 18 years of age. And they all want just one thing – to win in the Prix de Lausanne. We look at why...

Read more

Switzerland is involved whenever history is made in outer space. This was most recently illustrated by the spectacular journey of the ­Rosetta space...

Read more

Auslandschweizer Organisation
Alpenstrasse 26
3006 Bern, Schweiz

tel +41 31 356 61 10
fax +41 31 356 61 01