Brazzaville BeachMonday, 25 July 2011
Having acquired two Brazzaville Beach stamps in my passport – one when I took the boat from Kinshasa to Kisangani, so I entered Congo Republic at Brazzaville Beach, the second when I left Congo Republic at the same point – it was obviously time I read William Boyd’s novel of the same name.
My Brazzaville Beach entry & exit stamps ▼
First of all there is not much of a beach at Brazzaville Beach, it’s just the stretch of muddy riverbank where boats across the Congo River, 3km wide at this point, dock. And second the novel doesn’t have anything to do with the real Brazzaville Beach. It’s just the name given to an imaginary ocean beach where the heroine – Hope Clearwater – sits back to think about what’s been going on.
What’s been going on takes place first in England (and Scotland) where she meets and marries her husband, an extraordinarily single-minded mathematician, and then in the unnamed country (clearly not far from the Congos) where she studies chimpanzees while a civil war simmers and boils not far away. There are lots of interesting asides on mathematics and chimpanzees along the way, so even if it doesn’t relate to the real Brazzaville Beach the book fitted in very nicely. My Congo travels included a visit to the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary outside Kinshasa. Bonobos are primates which are closely related to chimpanzees, but more peacefully inclined and it’s the violent tendencies of chimpanzees which drive the novel.