Alphabetical Africa, by Walter Abish

Alphabetical Africa uses a unique literary device to frame a story set in a mostly imaginary African continent. There are 52 chapters; the first consists solely of words beginning with the letter 'a'. The second consists of words beginning with 'a' and 'b'. And so on until every word of the lexicon is available in chapters 26 and 27, then contracting again back up the alphabet.

Needless to say this imparts a distinctive flavor to what for want of a better word I will call the narrative. Initially this gives the impression of a nursery rhyme with sex thrown in - gradually a story is revealed. The narrator (identified as author) is searching Africa for his lover Alva and her accomplices in the murder of a jeweler and the theft of his valuables. With which he was somehow involved. Or not. Nothing becomes really clear (as author declares, he is 'an unreliable reporter') and the story veers further and further into the bizarre. Invading ant armies. Countries painted orange. Etc.

The result was a trajectory from, 'hmmm, this is interesting, if a bit contrived,' to 'wow, there's really something going on here,' to 'this guy was definitely on crack'.

The writing is melodic and breaks down the prose/poetry barrier at many points - this would be a great book to read aloud. Short and sweet. I recommend it.

"Bit by bit I have assembled Africa"

1 comment:

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