Urs Widmer

In the Congo

Urs Widmer
Zürich: Diogenes Verlag, 1996
214 S.
ISBN 3-257-06116-1
Paperback edition: Diogenes Verlag, 1998

The novel begins and ends in the democratic republic of Congo, the former Zaire of Mobutu, the dictator. The main character, Kuno, sits in the african jungle where he intends to write down his life history on an old Laptop within 3 days and 3 nights. In the first part of the text, Kuno narrates his life as a nurse in an Aged-home in Zurich in which his father was surprisingly brought in one day, after his old warpistole fired at the Postman. In this Home Kuno's father meets his school-friend Fritz Berger, whom he thought to be lost long ago. The two disclosed to the amazed Kuno that they nearly worked together with the German National Socialist during the 2nd world war. The history of the two old men which recalls their past presents the second part of the text.

In the 3rd and last part of the novel Kuno himself finally travels back to the past. The Nazi-Sympathizer and brewery owner Anselm Schirmhahn sends him to Congo to look for Kuno's former friend Willy who is managing one of his brewery there and to whom he no longer has any contact. Willy is Kuno's friend, who had once disappeared with Kuno's teenage lover Sophie. Kuno had not seen him again since 37 years. He travels to Congo so as to find out why Willy no longer carries out his regular money transfer to Schirmhahn in Switzerland.

As Kuno finds both of them in Kisangani, he realises to his horrow that Willy as well as Sophie have become black in the the literary sense of the word. He stays a while with them and undergoes some joint adventures with Willy, one of which was a ritual Mask feast of mighty "Clan-Nobles" in the tropical forest of Congo - to which the head of important european firms are also taking part.

With his return to Switzerland, Kuno realises that he has equally become black. Because as an african in Switzerland he has a lot of problems, he decides to go back to Congo. Ironically he had previously won the affection of the beautiful Anna who is the chief nurse in the Aged-home in which he had earlier worked. As Kuno was still white she has always rejected him: "You can wait there until you are black!" (page 18). Now she falls in love with Kuno and confesses to him that she has always dreamt of Africa. The two then emigrate together to Congo, where she finds her private paradies and Kuno becomes a business partner in Willy's brewery.

    Urs Widmer: Im Kongo (In the Congo)

    Urs Widmer links the history of Switzerland in the National Socialism with the present relationships between North and South, "first" and "third" world. With the change of scene, structural and symbolical parallels between Switzerland and Congo and an intertextuality with Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness" (1902), the novel Im Congo criticises colonial practices of Switzerland in the socalled "post"-colonial period from the collaboration with the National Socialists through the Discrimination and "Repartriation" of refugees to a neocolonial economic engagement in the framework of globalisation.More ...