Black Moses was one of my favorite books last year, so when I shuffled up my reading lost last minute a few weeks ago, I knew Alain Mabanckou’s non-fiction breakthrough The Lights of Pointe-Noire was an easy choice for me to pick. While I don’t like it nearly as much as I like his novel, it has the same passion, insight and intrigue of his fictional novel. It might not be a fair comparison because while the books have similar themes and share an identical locale, they are quite different in tone. While the book performs a seamless balancing act between slapstick and quiet tragedy, this is a more somber piece that acts as both an exorcism of a displaced writer’s conflicting past as well as a kind of triptych for a city that has one foot in the past and another in the present, with no plans for either to move forward or backward. It begins with Mabanckou receiving news of his mother’s passing, news he processes in such a detached way he does not tell his friends about it. This news forces him to travel back to Pointe-Noire, Congo after having been gone for more than two decades. What follows is a mish-mash of Mabanckou's past and present, which shows the duality at the heart of the city, where children are still taught to fear mythical beings while being enamored with spaghetti westerns and martial arts film at the local multiplex. What fascinated me most were the sections focusing on Mabanckou extended family, especially the men he calls his “uncles” all of which are fascinating people who somehow never were able to escape the city like Mabanckou was able to and find international success, an idea brilliantly put forth near the end. Sometimes it is rather dry read, but it was nice to read a book about someone’s home town that’s not hopelessly cynical, and I’m grateful it came from an a writer with the immense talent of Mabanckou.