A man sits in a bar, ruminating on his own failures and conversing with an ensemble of memorable characters that pass in and out of the same space. It’s archetypal stuff, but Mabanckou transforms it into a work that intimately inhabits its narrator’s mind even as it makes a host of bold literary allusions, from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Eugène Ionesco. A new introduction to this edition by Uzodinma Iweala offers varied and nuanced insights into the novel’s themes as well as the initial reception it received when it first appeared in translation.

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