Kain und Abel in Afrika


Cain and Abel in Africa

Hans Christoph Buch:
Kain und Abel in Afrika
Berlin: Verlag Volk und Welt, 2001
221 S.
ISBN 3-353-01170-6

Hans Christopher Buch's novel, as he entitles it in the epilogue interlaces two historical levels which in a total of six chapters alternately and so far unexpected are placed against each other. The first part consists of documentary, diaryform records of three journeys to Rwanda and Zaire which the author undertook between 1995 and 1997 as commissioned by a leading German weekly Newspaper. In these journeys he recounts the ethnic discussions in Rwanda and Burundi as well as the seizure of power by Kabila in Zaire which was re-named into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The second part of the text consists of a literary autobiography of the african research worker, Richard Kandt about whom Buch wrote on the basis of historical records. In 1897/98 Kandt travelled through the same region in which 100 years later the German writer also travelled and was appointed as the first colonial ruler in 1905. At the level of the text which deals with the present Buch describes the tension between Tutsis and Hutus which continued in the refugee camps after the general massacre in Rwanda. The reader experiences cruelty and arbitrary action of the Burundian Tutsi soldiers, who controlled the entrances of the camps and also the Hutu militia who were in command of the camps.

Beyond that Buch reflects upon his role as a western journalist in Africa, the motivations for his journeys. He describes the opposition between the good maintained hotels in which he put up and the situation in the refugee camps, their internal resistance against the reports of survivors of the massacre which are beyond every power of imagination. Self-critically he finally realises that a journalistic description of the events and their victims cannot be justified and therefore changes to a fictional treatment of his experiences. This overlapping of two periodical levels in Buch's novel supplemented through autobiographical reflections of both first-narrators, mark a many-sided picture of 100 years Africa and makes some of the reasons for the present day conflicts clear.

Sonja Lehner


    Hans Christoph Buch: Kain und Abel in Afrika
    (Cain and Abel in Africa)

    Buch's change between documentary Report and a fictional processing of his experiences in Africa calls to mind a thesis which the Nigerian author Wole Soyinka put up in his latest collection of essays "The burden of memory" (2001): Comparatively to documentary description and self legal persecution the literature proves itself always again as an efficient medium in the procession of traumatic experiences. "Cain and Abel in Africa" embodies a work of mourning, a recollection for the victims of the genocide in Rwanda and at the same time explains to the reader some of the main reasons concerning it.

    With the biblical allusion of the fraternal strife which gives the book its title the author goes out of the medien Report about Africa in which the African continent often appears as a cooker of crises and whose problems are to a greater extent home made. A retrospective look at the German colonial history makes the european co-responsibilty to these internal african "ethnic quarrels" visible and warns against the false conclusion that this does not concern Europe.

    An interesting parallel between the journeys to Africa by modern journalists and the colonial research journeys of Richard Kandt points itself out in its reason for the stay in Africa: In both cases the travellers are motivated by weariness of Europe, flight from personal problems and are in search of healing or at least distraction. Buch's novel shows that this search of the complete other cannot be fulfilled because it is itself a discovery of european thinking: The strict separation from I and the other, individiual and foreigner is a fiction which is produced with force and must be preserved. Kandt's example shows clearly how false expectations and disillusionment finally become a burden to the essence of yearning. Thus the modern admiration for Africa in contact with the reality often changes into racism. The so-called third world must remain the "blind spot, the suppressed, the underworld" just as it is also called in the text in the flap of the book: "For Europe, for our western civilisation".

    Buch's novel, in his description of the cruelty and the misery of the refugees in central Africa, is not easy to read. His complex presentation of the central african conflicts and his self-critical Analysis of the european African-Discourse however gives an important contribution in overcoming the colonial view which the author always again thematises in his literary as well as scientific publications.

    Sonja Lehner


    Literaturkritik.de   deutsch

    Review by Peter Mohr, Literaturkritik.de Nr. 4 (April) / 2001

    Lyrikwelt.de   deutsch

    Review by Fritz Rudolf Fries, Frankfurter Rundschau, 26.05.2001

    Perlentaucher   deutsch

    Commentated reviews from various newspapers