In the Belly of the Congo
by Blaise Ndala
Simon & Schuster Canada
A sweeping historical novel and an intergenerational family saga about the mysterious disappearance of a Congolese princess and the niece who is determined to uncover her fate more than four decades later, by the internationally acclaimed and award-winning Congolese Canadian author Blaise Ndala.
April 1958. Princess Tshala Nyota, daughter of King Kena Kwete III of the Kuba people in Congo, is among the eleven “villagers” put on display at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. After the humiliation of the Nazi occupation, the royal palace is determined to restore the Belgian colonial empire’s honor and prestige by showcasing the successful “civilization” of Congo, Belgium’s “model colony,” at one of the biggest international events since the end of the Second World War.
The young princess recounts her journey from her home of Kasaï to a Catholic school run by nuns, where she meets and falls madly in love with a handsome Belgian administrator. But when her father discovers the affair, his fury cannot be contained. Fearing for her life and his own, Tshala’s lover sends her to Léopoldville to stay with his friend, a collector and dealer specializing in African art. In the capital, she is immersed in a world pulsing with youth, sex, energy, and hope for the new independent republic. But when Tshala is betrayed by her lover’s friend, she is sent to Brussels and her forced exhibition at Expo ’58. Soon after, she mysteriously disappears.
August 2003. Nyota Kwete, the princess’s niece, is sent to Brussels to continue her education at the university. Before she departs, her father charges her with the task of discovering the fate of the missing princess. In Brussels, she is welcomed by the Congolese diaspora community and crosses paths with a Belgian scholar who is haunted by his own ghosts. Together, they uncover important secrets that were taken to the grave.
In this internationally acclaimed and award-winning novel, Congolese Canadian author Blaise Ndala examines Belgium and Congo’s colonial past and current legacy through the lives of two unforgettable women, connected by family and history across continents and decades.
Translated by Amy B. Reid.