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Albert Russo

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Books
· The Quatuor of African Novels in a single ebook

· Zapinette Baguette and Tagliatelle

· Eur-African Exiles

· Leodine of the Belgian Congo

· Adopted by an American Homosexual in the Belgian Congo

· Princes and Gods

· I-sraeli Syndrome

· Rome, my sibling, my empress

· Ode to Mamica mia, Mother beloved

· Mother beloved, Mamica mia


Short Stories
· The age of the pearl

· Lebensborn

· New York Bonus

· The spell of Mayaland

· Fast food Lisette

· Souk Secrets

· Spirit of Tar


Articles
· The writer as a chameleon - bilingualism in three continents

· Crisis and creativity in the new literatures in English


Poetry
· To my fellow poets

· Pixel power, from his book, CWS2

· Lost identity

· Emotionally trashed

· Remembrance of a corrected past

· The little things that add up in life

· Cormorant of Yangshuo, from his book Futureyes

· Call of the Falasha, from his book Futureyes

· Now, then and forever, from his book CWS2

· Choo-choo boy, from his book CWS2 (The Crowded World of Solitude, volume2)

         More poetry...
News
· Life Achievement Award for Literature

· fiction, poetry and photo books by Albert Russo

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The Benevolent American in the Heart of Darkness
by Albert Russo   


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Books by Albert Russo     View all 67
· The Quatuor of African Novels in a single ebook
· Adopted by an American Homosexual in the Belgian Congo
· Princes and Gods


Category: 

Mainstream

Publisher:  Xlibris & Domhanbooks ISBN-10:  1413470122 Type:  Fiction
Pages: 

547

Copyright:  2004 (Xlibris); 2000 (Domhanbooks)


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The benevolent American in the heart of darkness

'The benevolent American in the heart of Darkness' includes three of my award-winning African novels, namely: 'The Black Ancestor', 'Eclipse over lake Tanganyika' and 'Mixed Blood' - See JAMES BALDWIN's comments.

These novels take place in countries where I have lived for 17 years: the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi,which have been in the news for their tragic plight (the 1994 Rwandan tragedy in which about a million Tutsis have been murdered; Burundi, which has the same Hutu-Tutsi problem and where hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughterred, and, finally, Congo, where 4 million people have died within the last 4 years and which is still struggling). I have lived and gone to school with Tutsis and Hutus for at least 6 years and thus have a real knowsledge of their plight.


Synopsis of THE BLACK ANCESTOR, by Albert Russo

Africa or the quest for identity: the predicament of a white girl in the Belgian Congo and the terrible legacy of her American father.

Leodine, the daughter of Astrid, a beautiful Fleming, and of Gregory McNeil, a young and buoyant G.I. whom the latter had met in Northern France during WWII, grows up in the Belgian Congo with her mother, after her father died in a plane crash, flying from America to rejoin his family. After a couple of years, Astrid falls in love with Piet Van den Berg, and the latter will move in with them. Leodine is surrounded by the love of her mother and of Piet, whom she now considers as her stepfather, as well as by the affection of her maternal grandparents and of her uncle Jeff, still an adolescent.
One day her uncle, eavesdropping on his parents, will reveal to her that her deceased American father had a black great-grandmother. This news shatters the young girl and she becomes obsessed with the fact that she is of mixed blood, although she is so fair that no one could ever surmise it. But from this moment on her existence becomes a calvary. This will determine her whole future: she has decided never to marry, nor to bear a child who might be darker than herself.
The only friend she has at school is a pretty mulatto girl, half Portuguese, half-Angolan, named Yolande, and she finally decides to divulge to her the terrible secret. Later on, Yolande introduces her to her cousin Mario-Tende, a refined and intelligent student who lives at the Cité Indigène (the segregated black township). One afternoon, Leodine’s dear uncle Jeff is run over by a truck and she is so devastated, she feels she’s become an orphan for the second time.
Mario-Tende offers to tutor Leodine in the subjects she finds most difficult. A friendship evolves between the two, inasmuch as her uncle has left a huge void in her heart and that she can’t but compare him to Mario-Tende, for the two boys were about the same age and they were both bright and diligent students, albeit with a major difference, the one of course, being white and the other black. Mario-Tende has very strong and genuine feelings for the young girl, and one day, very naturally, very gently, the young man makes love to her. Panic-stricken, Leodine opens up to her mother, believing she is pregnant. But she is lucky and gets her periods.
After this grave occurrence, Astrid and her family decide to send the young girl away from the Congo. And it is thus that Leodine will go and study in far away Minnesota, where her paternal grandparents live. After college, she joins an Adventist convent, specialized in missionary work. She learns that Mario-Tende was killed in Angola, fighting for the independence of his country. Three decades after she left the Congo she will return to the land of her birth and witness the horror wrought following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Keeping to her promise, she never marries nor bears any child. But she will adopt a little Mozambican boy and name him ... Mario-Tende.


Synopsis of ECLIPSE OVER LAKE TANGANYIKA by Albert Russo

Setting: The story, based on historical events, is set in the former Rwanda-Urundi, a tiny landlocked territory in Central Africa held under Belgian trusteeship until 1962. The action takes place mainly in Buja, the lovely and seemingly dormant capital overlooking majestic Lake Tanganyika. At the time, the city’s population is about 70,000, comprising Congolese and a minority of Europeans of various origins, as well as Asians and Arabs.
Background: The time is just before Independence. The Tutsi, of nilotic origin, have been ruling over the region for the past four centuries. Under their yoke are the Hutu who constitute about 84% of the population and the Twa or pygmies (1%). But the Tutsi who consider themselves as the land’s aristocracy are themselves divided, both in lineage and politically. There are two main factions:
- the hardlners headed by Prince Ruego who intend to pave the way toward socialism and to loosen their ties with Belgium and the West.
- the pro-Western faction, the Christian Democrats, whose representative is the prince’s fun-loving father, the Mwami (king).
Plot: Damiana, the enticing wife of Tobias Antoniades, a wealthy Greek merchant twenty years younger than him, has the reputation of being a hot ticket in town. Among Damiana’s lovers are the Mwami himself, a Belgian police officer and Dimitri Stavros, a cinema owner. Damiana has added to her list a young American, Oswald Radcliffe, who works as a paramedic at the Evangelical mission. Oswald is a poet and an idealist.
Dimitri is terribly jealous and wants Damiana to divorce her husband. He knows about her affairs, and since Damiana doesn’t take him seriously, he decides to approach her husband, telling him about the Mwami and the Belgian police officer. That doesn’t deter Damiana, for Tobias, a weak man, with a heart ailment, scoffs at Dimitri. Outraged, Dimitri takes an unexpected step and goes and sees political opponents of the Prince, and meets with the Hutu leader Ntyca. He then comes back to Tobias and tells him that if the Prince wins the elections, all the foreign-owned businesses will be nationalized, including his. Tobias and other important representatives of the white community are summoned by Ntyca, and Tobias is ultimately convinced that he and his influential peers should support the Hutu majority financially.
The Prince, under house arrest, is released by the Belgians. The situation gets out of hand and consequently becomes very dangerous for the Hutu. The latter demand that Dimitri kill the prince. They threaten to down the Greek if he doesn’t accept. In return, they promise him a safe-conduct and a transfer of funds to Europe. Stavros shoots the Prince, while the latter is delivering a speech on the terrace of the Restaurant Tanganyika. Stavros flees, but in the middle of the night, his car breaks down. He waits on the side of the road when another car stops. The driver offers to give him a lift. The driver is none other than the king himself. The culprits are found out and the Hutu conspirators, Stavros as well as Tobias are executed.

This short novel has the ingredients of an African and a Greek Tragedy at once and I had originally thought of calling it PRINCES AND GODS.
Plot: Damiana, the enticing wife of Tobias Antoniades, a wealthy Greek merchant twenty years younger than him, has the reputation of being a hot ticket in town. Among Damiana’s lovers are the Tutsi Mwami himself, a Belgian police officer and Dimitri Stavros, a cinema owner. Damiana has added to her list a young American, Oswald Radcliffe, who works as a paramedic at the Evangelical mission. Oswald is a poet and an idealist. Dimitri is terribly jealous and wants Damiana to divorce her husband. To reach his aims he will gradually get involved in the local politics and before he realizes it he will be chosen as the hitman in the assassination of the Tutsi Prince Ruego, slated to become the country’s first Prime Minister.

Excerpts from the ‘World Literature Today’ review on the published French version of this novel:

“It takes a deft hand not only to make us believe in the various flesh-and-blood cast of characters and their beknotted lines of action but also to make us smell Africa, feel the voluptuous contact between human skins of different colors, rejoice in a sensuosity at once voluptuous and coolly observed, its heat utterly controlled, like a glowing horseshoe under the blows of an expert blacksmith.”



Synopsis of MIXED BLOOD or YOUR SON LEOPOLD by Albert Russo

The action takes place in the former Belgian Congo where Harry Wilson, an American from Baltimore, Maryland, settles down in the late thirties. Wilson owns a luxury boutique in Elisabethville, the capital city of the copper-rich province of Katanga. A homosexual, he lives with Mama Malkia, his strongwilled Congolese maid. Actually, she is much more than a maid to him, for he will ask her to go to the Catholic Mission and choose a mulatto baby whom he will adopt.
The novel is divided in three parts.
Part One is the story of Léopold Kitoko Wilson as told by the child himself. The boy evolves between two universes, the Congo and the USA, portrayed respectively by his black protectress Mama Malkia and by Harry, his adoptive father.
Léo attends a European Catholic school and leads the privileged life of a white boy. But some of his schoolmates make him feel an outcast. He befriends Ishaya, a Jewish boy who is so dark people mistake him for a Hindu or an Arab. Léo admires Ishaya for his pride and a certain arrogance, ‘qualities’ he himself lacks. It is through Léo’s eyes that the reader gets acquainted with colonial Africa under the rule of the Belgians. Soon, Léo will suffer from his status as a mulatto. Neither white nor black, Léo feels estranged from both races; on the other hand, Léo knows his adoptive father is not like other men, and this ‘difference’ also disturbs him. Yet, Harry Wilson, a tactful and responsible man, will do everything so that Léo grows up like any ‘normal’ boy, praying that one day he will marry and raise a family of his own. There are, however, some inevitable scenes between Harry and lis lovers, Giorgos, a temperamental Greek and a meek Belgian officer. A terrible fight will oppose Harry to the former.
In Part Two of the novel, it is Harry who speaks. He does so,using the diary form. It is very intimate and is not intended to be read by Léo.
Part Three will be in the words of Mama Malkia. She will consult her elders and the witchdoctor of her village and tell them of Léo’s adoption, of her strange yet kindly American employer. She will tell us of Léo’s departure for the US after graduation from High School, of his return to Elisabethville in the Summer of 1960 for the Independence festivities. She will be the one to announce Harry’s death to Léo, recounting how his stepfather was shot by U.N. soldiers while driving to the pharmacy downtown, to buy medicine for her.

About Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold:

This is what Edmund White, the acclaimed biographer of Jean Genet and author of many bestselling novels wrote concerning Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold:

"Albert Russo has recreated through a young African boy's joys and struggles many of the tensions of modern life, straight and gay, black and white, third world and first ... all of these tensions underlie this story of a biracial African adopted by a gay American. And Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold is a non-stop, gripping read!"


Excerpt from James Baldwin's letter to the author, penned the year of his death:

"I like your work very much indeed. It has a very gentle surface and a savage under-tow. You're a dangerous man."


Preface to Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold by Martin Tucker, editor-in-chief of Confrontation magazine (LIU, New York), poet and biographer of Joseph Conrad and Sam Shepard:

“History is a thread which is not seamless. Its appointments are marked, its fabric is dated. That quality of worn uniqueness, no matter how many similarities one era bears to another, is what distinguishes the many histories of the universe.

Because fiction, and particularly the novel, has a wondrous quality to sew threads into a reaping different from their initial needlings, it often becomes the scroll to which we turn for an understanding of an event, a particular time and the places within that time --in sum, for the perception of a decade or period that has become historic and thus distinct from contemporary patterns. Again, there are similarities, threads from the past, to remind us of the origins of the present, but history is in itself a finished product of time, an irrefragible sequence within a closed border.

Albert Russo’s work has many distinctive qualities. Mixed Blood is especially distinguished by Russo’s startingly precise grasp of the historic period of mid-twentieth-century Central Africa. In this sense, his work bears twinship to V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. Such a time no longer exists because one history has changed and another has happened, and still another is happening under our ticking hours. Like his predecessor Naipaul, Russo has captured the attitudes of his white colonialists, his black politicians of various hues of moderation and extremity, and painted a seemingless timeless portrait of a naive American Peace Corps volunteer. (Perhaps naivity is the one constant in the history of change.) Again, like Naipaul, Russo is compassionate and satiric, but unlike his British counterpart, Russo holds out hope that messages of goodness and idealism and decency remain within hearing, that they remain to be recorded in a different and deeper key in another time.

Like any serious artist, Russo is subtle and ironic in his presentations. His political and social attitudes to his ever-pertinent material remain, in consequence, beyond familiarity. Yet in carving out a moment of history, in shaping a fountain of abiding conflicts and in stroking broadly the revolutions of personal and social jealousy, anger and explosion, his artistry is triumphant. He has captured in fiction what lies hidden in forgotten documents, and he has given substance and a frame to the baldness of even remembered documents.
Rooted in a past time, Mixed Blood or your son Leopold has an undeniable relevance to contemporary time.”

The first part of the novel, entitled Your son Leopold, won the Volvano Review award (California), sponsored by the NEA, for best long fiction in an international contest.


Excerpt from The Black Ancestor: Greg's (Leodine's late American father) letter:

My darling Astrid and Leodine,

It is my wish that this letter reach you as late as possible, for I intend to take care of my lovely wife and our precious daughter, and, God willing, of her future brothers and sisters, for a very long time to come. But we never really know what destiny has in store for us. I survived this last horrible war unscathed, for which I shall forever praise the Lord. And something tells me that He keeps a protective eye over me. Nevertheless, I have asked my parents to hand you this letter, in case I should leave this planet before you, my dear ones. Strange, will you think, for someone who has a myriad plans for his family, until at least the year 2000, and who not only wants to be their initiator but also to see them accomplished, surrounded by his grandchildren. So much for an inveterate optimist!
Yet, it behooves me to let you in on an important fact, which, if it won’t be directly apparent in my beloved daughter, might come out in her brothers and sisters, or, much later, with a greater probability, in her own children, for genes have an uncanny way of manifesting themselves. You should consequently know that my great-grandmother was black. She was light-skinned, for an African woman, but it was both her beauty and her human qualities which attracted my ancestor, to the point where, in order to marry her, he had to confuse the issue before the civil administration of the time, going so far as to invent an identity for her, claiming that she was an Anglo-Brazilian aristocrat.
For reasons which may seem selfish and cowardly, I never told you this, my lovely Astrid. I was crazy about you from the first minute our eyes locked, and there was no way that I would let you go to another man. Had your parents learnt about this side of my family, they would never have accepted me as their son-in-law. The white folk, whether they hail from Europe or from America, not to mention those who have settled temporarily in Africa, are loath to mix with other races, as if by doing so, they would lose their honor as well as their soul. And I am not referring specifically to the nazis or to the members of the Ku Klux Klan, here, who share the same horrific values. This view is unfortunately much more widespread, even among the so-called liberal population. Mankind will have to wait generations before acknowledging that we all originate from the same source. But since our present society isn’t ready yet for this truth and since the color of one’s skin is still so prevalent in its choices, I thought it futile and even dangerous for my family, to engage in a personal battle against the majority. This is why I refrained from divulging it. Will you forgive me? No, not for inheriting my genes - I feel no shame about them -, but for having hidden this fact from you, to ward us off that long-standing plague which is called racial discrimination?
So, here, my darlings, is, as far as I know, the missing link to our family history, for I didn’t deem it necessary to go farther back into our genealogical tree.
With all my love and indefectible affection, whatever the circumstances.

Your Greg


Excerpt from Eclipse over lake Tanganyika: Dalila's letter to the Tutsi Prince Ruego with whom she is in love:

Ruego dearest,

The letter I am about to pen holds such danger for both of us that I cannot even fathom its aftemath if ever it were discovered. I can’t keep it inside any longer, but how shall I start? For the last month or so, I have watched your every gesture, your every movement, long before ‘Sadko’ introduced us. But then I felt your attraction to me, and like a magnet, you responded.
Dalila is in love with a boy who is not of her race, not of her creed. Yet, the same Dalila has been promised to Salim, Mr. Jamil’s son. In our society, the promise of marriage is contracted at a very young age. No sooner do we reach the age of reason than you realize you aren’t the master of your destiny.
There was no way out, so I forced myself to like him, to get used to his company. Then you entered the picture, opening my eyes.
You are as dark as he is fair, my love. Had I not found the way to your heart, I would have accepted my parent’s choice without arguing. But now I feel trapped like a colibri in a royal cage. You cannot tame a colibri, for it will beat its wings and flutter until it eventually collapses from exhaustion.
Salim is studying at a most prestigious British university, the London School of Economics -- those among my people who can afford it go to England to further their education. He comes back here every summer to see his family -- and me.
Above my dressing-table is a photograph of him, taken in his sophomore year, so that he keeps a daily watch on me. His father, Mr. Jamil, who is a good man, really, doesn’t let a week go by without showering me with presents, as if to make up for Salim’s long absence.
It is difficult for strangers to understand our philosophy of life. My people, who originally came from the Punjab, were very poor. The only light they could see were the darting, implacable rays of the sun, and their only possession, misery. They slept on the bare ground, with a ramshackle roof for protection, often inhaling the odor of death -- I can still breathe that stench of cremation by the river -- and bitten by famished rats in the middle of the night.
Then, one day, a cousin of Mother’s offered to emigrate with him to Africa. It roused a storm of indignation among the old folk, but Mother was stubborn -- she still is. That is why she is so hard to deal with. It isn’t for nothing that they nicknamed her ‘the tigress’ or, less gently, ‘the adventuress’. But without her unyielding attitude, we would probably still be wallowing in filfth and in disease and be doomed to eternal begging, like so many of our kin that has remained in the Punjab. What was it that prompted her in being so tenacious? Hope, Clairvoyance? I don’t really know.
Many students of Indian philosophy see passivity as the ultimate, spiritual attainment, but it is nothing more than crass apathy. Believe me, Ruego, poverty is a curse, and we oughtn’t to treat it with indulgence. Destroy it, crush it until only the inevitable nightmares remain. Getting out of the tunnel is like resuscitating. Bread acquires the taste of nutcake. Clear, filtered water becomes as sweet as almond juice. How can you not feel grateful for the amenities of life after such common yet dreadful experiences?
These are all the things that surround me: a house full of the merry shouts of childhood, of noisily slammed doors, of rattling pots and pans, for my Mother is forever cooking, whether it is for us or for our extended family, for our friends or for mere acquaintances. A house you shall never come to.
Ending this letter is as painful as being wrenched out of an impossible dream. More than once did I think of tearing it up, for it reeks of trespassing and of taboo. The mere audacity of it makes me tremble. Then too I have this wild, recurring idea: elope with me, Ruego. And in the morning, I come back to my senses -- to their senses, I should say -- and then I see no hope. Oh Ruego! Couldn’t we, couldn’t we brave them, once and for all, and build a new life together, far, far away from here? I am raving, aren’t I?
Farewell, my love. Why did we have to meet?


Excerpt from Mixed Blood: Leopold's letter:

Dear Papa,

A question has been haunting me lately. At first I thought I could keep it to myself but now I have nightmares about it. You told me to open my heart to you in case I had any doubts.
Well, I don’t know what to call it and each time I have wanted to approach you I have had to back out at the last moment, feeling it would be to no avail.
Yet, as the days have gone by the question has began to weigh unbearably upon me, papa. Why did you adopt me? Wouldn’t it have been... wiser if you had had a white boy for a son? Sometimes I ask myself whether I deserve you, then when I think of Mama Malkia I feel terribly grateful that she should be with us. And yet, there is this weight I’ve mentioned. It’s like a boulder in my chest, a boulder that is hollow inside. Something there is missing, papa, something I cannot pinpoint. Until recently I believed that I should deem myself lucky to go to school with European boys, to live in such a wonderful home.
But the others, papa, they don’t treat me like a European and I shall never be one. Am I not half Congolese? Then why do I feel a total stranger among blacks, with the exception, of course, of Mama Malkia?
It seems ridiculous but last night in my prayers I pleaded God to work a miracle on me, yes papa I wished I were wholly of one race and not a café-au-lait. In body and soul I feel so...inappropriate, so unachieved. These are perhaps the wrong words but you do see what I mean, don’t you?
The other day I thought it would be simpler for all of us if I disappeared. But I am a coward, Papa, I am afraid of what might happen to me and it is true that I don’t ever want to lose you.
It’s funny but as I write this letter I have the impression my pen is being guided by someone else, another me (?) I am meeting for the first time.
Is it the voice of my real mother or that of the father I have never seen? Whom do I resemble? For sure, I’m not bound to hear: “Léo, you’re the spit and image of your American granddad.”
Just don’t laugh! Papa, is granddad the reason why you left the United States?
You did tell me once, a long time ago, that an unloving parent was ten times worse than no parent at all. Does he really...hate you? Even today? Because of how you are? Won’t I also ever get married? Oh papa, forgive me, I don’t know what pushes me to ask you all this. My mind is so hazy. Help me put some order in it.
One thing I have absolutely no doubt about. I shall always remain

your son Léopold




Excerpt

About Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold:

This is what Edmund White, the acclaimed biographer of Jean Genet and author of many bestselling novels wrote concerning Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold:

"Albert Russo has recreated through a young African boy's joys and struggles many of the tensions of modern life, straight and gay, black and white, third world and first ... all of these tensions underlie this story of a biracial African adopted by a gay American. And Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold is a non-stop, gripping read!"


Excerpt from James Baldwin's letter to the author, penned the year of his death:

"I like your work very much indeed. It has a very gentle surface and a savage under-tow. You're a dangerous man."


Preface to Mixed Blood or Your son Leopold by Martin Tucker, editor-in-chief of Confrontation magazine (LIU, New York), poet and biographer of Joseph Conrad and Sam Shepard:

“History is a thread which is not seamless. Its appointments are marked, its fabric is dated. That quality of worn uniqueness, no matter how many similarities one era bears to another, is what distinguishes the many histories of the universe.

Because fiction, and particularly the novel, has a wondrous quality to sew threads into a reaping different from their initial needlings, it often becomes the scroll to which we turn for an understanding of an event, a particular time and the places within that time --in sum, for the perception of a decade or period that has become historic and thus distinct from contemporary patterns. Again, there are similarities, threads from the past, to remind us of the origins of the present, but history is in itself a finished product of time, an irrefragible sequence within a closed border.

Albert Russo’s work has many distinctive qualities. Mixed Blood is especially distinguished by Russo’s startingly precise grasp of the historic period of mid-twentieth-century Central Africa. In this sense, his work bears twinship to V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. Such a time no longer exists because one history has changed and another has happened, and still another is happening under our ticking hours. Like his predecessor Naipaul, Russo has captured the attitudes of his white colonialists, his black politicians of various hues of moderation and extremity, and painted a seemingless timeless portrait of a naive American Peace Corps volunteer. (Perhaps naivity is the one constant in the history of change.) Again, like Naipaul, Russo is compassionate and satiric, but unlike his British counterpart, Russo holds out hope that messages of goodness and idealism and decency remain within hearing, that they remain to be recorded in a different and deeper key in another time.

Like any serious artist, Russo is subtle and ironic in his presentations. His political and social attitudes to his ever-pertinent material remain, in consequence, beyond familiarity. Yet in carving out a moment of history, in shaping a fountain of abiding conflicts and in stroking broadly the revolutions of personal and social jealousy, anger and explosion, his artistry is triumphant. He has captured in fiction what lies hidden in forgotten documents, and he has given substance and a frame to the baldness of even remembered documents.

Rooted in a past time, Mixed Blood or your son Leopold has an undeniable relevance to contemporary time.”


The first part of the novel, entitled Your son Leopold, won the Volvano Review award (California), sponsored by the NEA, for best long fiction in an international contest.

Excerpts of reviews published in France, Belgium and Switzerland:

- Le Figaro Littéraire, Paris: “with this novel, in which the author skillfully tackles a subject as delicate as that of racial and sexual differences and their many facets, Albert Russo, who has already been awarded the Prix Colette, makes a successful comeback in French literature.”

- Libération, Paris: “Sang Mêlé is an exception to the rule which implies that any novel set in Black Africa, whether the author is White or Black, is suffused with exoticism. Albert Russo's sentences are as perfectly aligned as the streets of Elisabethville (now called Lubumbashi), in the former Belgian Congo. The characters of Sang Mêlé inhabit a convention, an invented town. Fantasy is natural to them. Averting the picturesque, they placidly confront situations which would make Simenon's protagonists in his 'African' novel The Bespectacled White Man quite hysterical. Having read the novel's original version in English, James Baldwin wrote to the author how much he had liked MIXED BLOOD, adding, 'it has a very gentle surface and a savage undertow, you're a dangerous man!’”


- Vers L'Avenir, Belgium: “... To tell a story is an art. It is an art which Albert Russo possesses. And the reader's attention is sustained, unflaggingly, throughout the novel's 258 pages. The author succeeds in being heeded like those Bantu storytellers who, deep inside the bush, recount tragic or fantastic tales inherited from the old oral tradition."

- La Liberté / Dimanche, Switzerland: "...born and raised in Zaire, Albert Russo masterfully depicts a world which is so particular, with its customs and mores, its atmosphere and its passions, a totally different way of life. What he has achieved here is almost a piece of ethnology."

- Le Drapeau Rouge, Belgium: “One does not often encounter a novel told in three voices. In Sang Mêlé, Albert Russo lets the protagonists, each in turn, express their hopes, expectations and frustrations in their daily lives. And as the story unravels from one version to the other, the themes which the author wishes to tackle are exposed in an intimistic mode: life in colonial times, homosexuality, the relationships between three very different people living under the same roof. The reader is drawn into the pace of this well constructed novel and is able, through the characters' successive narrations, to settle behind each conscience."

- Gai Pied Hebdo, Paris: " ... Sang Mêlé ou ton fils Léopold is Albert Russo's invigorating novel. It deals with capital questions and a delicate theme: the adoption of a mulato child by an American homosexual in the Belgian Congo of the 1950's. The manner in which the novel is structured allows each of the three protagonists to cast a different light upon this unusual love story. It behooves Mama Malkia, the formidable Congolese woman who smothers with tenderness the two marginal men, to recount Léo's departure for America as well as the death of Harry during the events following the Congo's Independence. This is the novel of every possible pain and battle caused and fueled by differences, be they of a sexual, social or racial nature. Yet, albeit violent, Sang Mêlé is never tragic. It is an incitation to courage: to affirm one's freedom, not to mask the truth, to avoid the traps of guilt. This powerful, very well written novel, is a hymn to optimism."

Other reviews have appeared in:
(France) Le Quotidien de Paris, L'Express, Révolution, l'Humanité, Jeune Afrique Economie, Présence Africaine, Livres-Hebdo, Lu magazine, etc. ;(Belgium) Le Soir, La Cité, la Meuse, Het Laatste Niews, Contact J, Temps Présent, Quartiers Latins, La Termitiere / Kisugulu, etc.; (Switzerland) Hebdo, etc.
The author was interviewed on national and private radio and television in France, Belgium, Switzerland and the US (New Letters On the Air, broadcast on National Public Radio) and was also invited to give conferences in Brussels, at the Sorbonne, at the University of Trier (Germany) and in Poitiers (France).
The novel was selected by the Libraires Cle - the association of literary bookstores covering France and Switzerland - and featured in the Page des Libraires.

Professional Reviews
world literature today on The Black Ancestor
Africa or the quest for identity: the predicament of a white girl in the Belgian Congo and the terrible legacy of her American father. by Eric Tessier
published in World Literature Today.

For who wants to understand Albert Russo, Africa is the key to his work and to his being. He is African by birth and he was raised in both Belgian-ruled Africa and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), speaking French, English, as well as Kiswahili.
Let’s first start with the story of the novel. Leodine, the daughter of Astrid, a beautiful Fleming, and of Gregory McNeil - a young and buoyant G.I. whom the latter had met in Northern France during WWII -, grows up in the Belgian Congo with her mother, after her father died in a plane crash, flying from America to rejoin his family. After a couple of years, Astrid falls in love with Piet Van den Berg, and the latter will move in with them. Leodine is surrounded by the love of her mother and of Piet, whom she now considers as her surrogate father, as well as by the affection of her maternal grandparents and of her uncle Jeff, who is still an adolescent.
One day her uncle, eavesdropping on his parents, will reveal to her that her deceased American father had a black great-grandmother. This news shatters the young girl and she becomes obsessed with the fact that she is of mixed blood, although she is so fair that no one could ever surmise it. But from this moment on her existence becomes a calvary. This will determine her whole future: she has decided never to marry, nor to bear a child who might be darker than herself.
The only friend she has at school is a pretty mulatto girl, half-Portuguese, half-Angolan, named Yolande, and she finally decides to divulge to her the terrible secret. Later on, Yolande introduces her to her cousin Mario-Tende, a refined and intelligent student who lives at the Cité Indigène (Elisabethville’s segregated black township). One afternoon, Leodine’s uncle Jeff is run over by a truck; she is so devastated, she feels she’s become an orphan for the second time.
Mario-Tende offers to tutor Leodine in the subjects she finds most difficult, especially math and science. A friendship evolves between the two, inasmuch as her uncle has left a huge void in her heart and that she can’t but compare him to Mario-Tende, for the two boys, who didn’t know each other, were about the same age and were both bright and diligent students, albeit with a major difference, the one of course, being white and the other black. Mario-Tende has deep and genuine feelings for the young girl, and one day, very naturally, very gently, the young man makes love to her. Panic-stricken, Leodine opens up to her mother, believing she is pregnant. But she is lucky and gets her periods.
After this grave occurrence, Astrid and her family decide to send the young girl away from the Congo. And it is thus that Leodine will go and study in far away Minnesota, where her paternal grandparents live. After college, she joins an Adventist convent, specialized in missionary work. She learns that Mario-Tende was killed in Angola, fighting for the independence of his country. Three decades after she left the Congo she will return to the continent of her birth and witness the horror wrought in that section of the Great Rift valley, following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Keeping to her promise, she never marries nor bears any child. But she will adopt a little Mozambican boy and name him ... Mario-Tende.
One of Albert Russo’s recurring themes is the quest for one own’s identity, from wherever the protagonists of his novels or of his shorter fiction hail. It may be Africa, as in the present case, Europe or America, and the main character could be white, black, or of mixed blood. Born of an Italian father and of a British mother, the author, who fluently speaks five languages, writes in both French and English, which he considers as his two ‘mother-tongues’. Let’s face it, Albert Russo could very well be the hero of one of his novels. The issue here is quite straightfoward: in a binary world, where A must be white and B black, how does one measure the shades of life’s infinitely variegated spectrum? How does one define oneself, when one is both white and black? The purpose here is not to play on words, although we do live in a world where definitions and ideas are increasingly slipping into the dangerous arena of dogmatism. You need not look further than the fondamentalist propagators of radical Islam, and to a lesser degree, of other religions. In contemporary France, it is fashionable for the young folk, especially those living in the suburbs, to use the English word ‘black’, instead of ‘noir’, when designating a person of African descent, ‘rebeu’ in verlan (slang), for ‘arabe’, or ‘feuj’, for ‘juif’. I detect in such affectations a visceral fear of reality, a cowardly distancing between the self and one’s environment, a way of being politically correct in a fashionable manner, with the false pretense of establishing a new standard to which the new generation could identify itself. Calling someone ‘visually-impaired’ will not render him his sight, or a paraplegic ‘a person with reduced mobility’, his ability to walk. It would be much more practical and humane to fit our urban societies with the appropriate facilities, but here we are getting down to the nitty-gritty, and such concrete and urgent decisions scare many a politician. They bask in sparring matches, for it is so much easier to give advice or to counter one’s adversaries.
Returning to our main subject, how does one tackle the predicament of being at once black and white, in other words, of being a mulatto? To say that the mixing of races produces handsome children won’t answer the question. Man is instinctively recalcitrant to anyone who is different from himself. There is a tendency in our multi-ethnic democratic societies of regarding the ‘otherness’ of our fellow citizens, in a positive light, albeit with a sense of guilt. Yet, no matter how well-intentioned we are - and some of us genuinely believe in the cross-pollination of cultures - the mulatto continues to be considered a threat, for he is neither totally of one race, nor of another, and even though he didn’t choose his status, he might also be considered something of a traitor. The boundaries are so easily crossed when things do not turn out to our advantage. And immediately the old prejudices reappear to the surface, with snakish remarks or blatant accusations, such as “that’s typical ...” or “what can you expect from them?”
I recall a discussion with Albert Russo concerning his novel “L’amant de mon père - journal romain”. “How would you define your protagonist?” asked a literary critic. He expected the author to stress the main character’s homosexuality and was somewhat disappointed by Russo’s reply: “Like anybody else, Eric has sexual urges, but that is not what his life is all about.” Even intellectuals who pretend to be open-minded often feel more comfortable when they are able to categorize. And of course, it is Albert Russo who is right, man cannot be reduced to his sexual inclinations.
There is another anecdote which I would like to mention that points to Russo’s status as both a polyglot and a bilingual author. He once approached a well-known Argentinian writer who had settled in France several decades ago and thought it natural to address him in Spanish. “Why on earth are you speaking Spanish to me?” the man retorted. “So, you write in French and in English? You must be schizophrenic, my friend!” he went on. “One has to choose, for one can write well in only one idiom. In my case, I have relinquished my native tongue for the language of Molière.”
Whereas some intellectual pedants spend their lives subtracting, Albert Russo adds on, enriched by his experiences. Unlike the little falcons that put on their hoods to please their masters, and flaunt their medals, at every possible occasion, Albert Russo has learned that freedom lies with the sparrow, unencumbered by society’s strictures.
In “L’ancêtre noire”, the reader, acquainted with the author’s previous African novels - “Le Cap des Illusions”, and in both French and English: “Mixed Blood” and “Eclipse over Lake Tanganyika” - will find many poignant and delightful passages, especially in the journeys across the magnificent Kivu province, which today, along with bordering Rwanda and Burundi, has been scarred by fratricidal wars.
That Leodine, in this particular novel, happens to be an adolescent, as was Leopold in “Mixed Blood”, isn’t fortuitous, for it is at that vulnerable period of one’s life that one’s intimate and social traits take form and that the child’s personality gets molded.
To conclude, I shall sum up what Albert Russo’s Africa represents in my eyes: humankind’s infinite diversity and, amid such richness, a quest for the deep self, with, concomittantly, the search for fraternal love. That is his message. Heed it!


several reviews on Mixed Blood
This is what Edmund White, the acclaimed biographer of Jean Genet and author of the bestselling autobiographical novel ‘The Farewell Symphony’ writes concerning MIXED BLOOD: "Albert Russo has recreated through a young African boy's joys and struggles many of the tensions of modern life, straight and gay, black and white, third world and first ... all of these tensions underlie this story of a biracial African adopted by a gay American. And MIXED BLOOD is a non-stop, gripping read!"

James Baldwin's words to me, penned the year of his death: "I like your work very much indeed. It has a very gentle surface and a savage under-tow. You're a dangerous man."

Your Son Leopold (first part of the novel MIXED BLOOD) was awarded a prize as the best story in an international ‘long fiction’ contest held by the Volcano Review (California) and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Preface to Mixed Blood by Martin Tucker, editor-in-chief of Confrontation magazine (LIU, New York), poet and biographer of Joseph Conrad and Sam Shepard:

“History is a thread which is not seamless. Its appointments are marked, its fabric is dated. That quality of worn uniqueness, no matter how many similarities one era bears to another, is what distinguishes the many histories of the universe.

Because fiction, and particularly the novel, has a wondrous quality to sew threads into a reaping different from their initial needlings, it often becomes the scroll to which we turn for an understanding of an event, a particular time and the places within that time --in sum, for the perception of a decade or period that has become historic and thus distinct from contemporary patterns. Again, there are similarities, threads from the past, to remind us of the origins of the present, but history is in itself a finished product of time, an irrefragible sequence within a closed border.

Albert Russo’s work has many distinctive qualities. Mixed Blood is especially distinguished by Russo’s startingly precise grasp of the historic period of mid-twentieth-century Central Africa. In this sense, his work bears twinship to V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. Such a time no longer exists because one history has changed and another has happened, and still another is happening under our ticking hours. Like his predecessor Naipaul, Russo has captured the attitudes of his white colonialists, his black politicians of various hues of moderation and extremity, and painted a seemingless timeless portrait of a naive American Peace Corps volunteer. (Perhaps naivity is the one constant in the history of change.) Again, like Naipaul, Russo is compassionate and satiric, but unlike his British counterpart, Russo holds out hope that messages of goodness and idealism and decency remain within hearing, that they remain to be recorded in a different and deeper key in another time.
Like any serious artist, Russo is subtle and ironic in his presentations. His political and social attitudes to his ever-pertinent material remain, in consequence, beyond familiarity. Yet in carving out a moment of history, in shaping a fountain of abiding conflicts and in stroking broadly the revolutions of personal and social jealousy, anger and explosion, his artistry is triumphant. He has captured in fiction what lies hidden in forgotten documents, and he has given substance and a frame to the baldness of even remembered documents. Rooted in a past time, Mixed Blood has an undeniable relevance to contemporary time.”

The French version of the book, SANG MELE ou Ton fils Léopold, was published in 1991 by Editions du Griot, went into three printings, appearing also in the France Loisirs book club edition.


world literature review on Eclipse over lake Tanganyika
ECLIPSE OVER LAKE TANGANYIKA by Albert Russo ©2000, Domhan Books (USA/UK)
208 pages - www.domhanbooks.com

Reading one of Albert Russo's renderings of his works from one of his native languages into the other is always a fascinating experience. If I have used the word “renderings”, it is because Mr Russo does not translate his novels, but rewrites them in order to adapt them to the other language, i.e to another culture for other readers. After a most interesting English version of Zapinette Vidéo last year, Russo's special gift for bilingual writing is brought to us in his short novel Eclipse over Lake Tanganyika, initially published in French in 1994.

Mr Russo's bilingualism enables him to intuit that, in some instances, what can be written in one language will never do in another. Each language is inscribed within a lexical and cultural framework which can probably be recreated by radical changes in the writing, even to the extent of eliminating some characters and situations and inventing others. Of course, the process can probably be described and made into linguistic theories, but no one can master it better than a bilingual writer, like Albert Russo, who naturally knows how to transform a French novel into an English novel by remaining absolutely faithful to his original intention. In the same way, his writing is the most efficient when it sticks closely to the reality evoked and is wary of any rhetorical or intellectual effect. Eclipse's power lies primarily in the scenes when the African reality Russo deals with is set as the background in front of which the narrative unfolds and with which it interacts, without bombast. Take the opening paragraph:

From down the plain a siren whined : six o'clock. Oswald put on his slippers, shuffled across the corridor, pushed open the heavy verandah door, and leaned on the balcony.

The passage is as graphic as you can get: the language is plainly informative, but a whole atmosphere has been created: early evening in a hot country, the heavy languor of a lone character as he is woken up or stirred out of his lethargy by a familiar siren, his longing for the world outside, which has not been evoked yet but is already present in the last phrase. We know that Oswald is going to stay on and to look at the plain below him, and that he will learn something from his gazing down at the scenery.

The scene is set for the main theme of the novel. We do not know yet that Oswald is a young American and that the town below in the valley is Bujumbura, but the information is provided in the first page of Eclipse over Lake Tanganyika, which deals with the young man's sentimental journey (and ours) through a land “virgin as the first dawn of Creation”.

Albert Russo does not care about local colour. The strange vegetation, the African words and the many place names in the novel serve the one purpose of setting the scenery for a single man's confrontation with “Creation”. Russo's novel is as interesting and ambiguous as Columbus's journal : every page demonstrates the writer's fascination for the pristine luxuriant Eden-like land and his utter sadness at what havoc men have wreaked on such plentiful beauty: “a décor of papier mâché, which a single spark could incinerate.”

Oswald is the Christ of this New African Testament. One scene shows him metaphorically crucified at the hands of his never satisfied lover, who is also, by the way, everyone else's, Damiana Antoniades, the Great Whore of Bujumbura. As the local medic, Oswald performs a few ‘miracles’, but he fails to convert anyone, and finally vanishes with his “plans and ideals”, forsaken in the symbolical flood of a tropical storm, from which he is retrieved by the King of Burundi himself, who was just driving by and handed Oswald a towel for him to dry himself with :

AlI of a sudden Oswald fell out-of-place. He had come all the way from America, full of plans and ideaIs, which seemed to have vanished, swept away by the cloudburst and the Mwami’s unexpected appearance.

Once Oswald, the symbolical upholder of ideals, is out of the way, Burundi becomes the realm of crooked politicians, disgruntled white trash and killers, who inscribe on the immaculate landscape an Apocalypse of red and black. The metaphorical “eclipse” of the title is the change from an immaculate majestic blackness “carved in ebony” to the blackness of an evil fed and encouraged by the white colonisation of Africa, whose aftermath extends from the Katanga rebellion in the sixties (the time of the novel) to the Rwandan genocide of the nineties. Albert Russo raises then the ultimate question of the effect of colonialism, a political system in which humaneness (love, tolerance and delight in natural beauty) is eventually dissolved into the disheartening racial equality of greed, contempt and murder.

Jean-Luc Breton



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