It had been a long time since I last cried over a book. It had been a long time since I last stopped in the middle of a book with the intention to interrupt the reading for good. This is what “Johnny Chien Méchant” (Johnny Mad Dog in English) one of the best-sellers of Emmanuel Dongala, did to me.
Johnny Chien Méchant, is one of the key characters of the book. He is sixteen years old and somehow to old for his age. Laokole, also aged sixteen years old, is a girl, the other key character. Johnny Chien Méchant is a child-soldier, part of one those milician groups who surround the neighborhoods with sadness. They kill, they still, they rape and of kids have only the name. Laokole in the contrary, is one of the victims. She has lost her father, her mother has got her legs broken and she has a brother Fofo, aged only twelve years old. She tries to flee with her mum and brother.
Emmanuel Dongala starts his book at the end of a civil war, just disguised description of one of the so many civil wars which have broken Congo-Brazaville or Congo-Kinshassa, two African countries full of natural resources.
As I mentioned earlier, I nearly stopped reading this book. In fact, I just abandoned it for a few minutes, my eyes full of tears. The last time I was so impacted by a book, I was reading Murambi, another description of evil (Rwandan Genocide). Yes, indeed, Mr. Dongala describes evil. This evil which drives politicians into encouraging hatred among fellow citizens. This evil which stops the courses of lives and pushes a country into civil war. This evil which supposes that children have to be transformed in killing machines, with no feelings. This evil which transforms children into serial killers, rappers, robbers with no single taste of mercy. This evil which supposes that human beings have to be killed as animals, for no valid reason than being at the wrong place at the wrong moment.
Reading “Johnny Chien Méchant” is a duty as we need to know, we need to be more exposed to this kind of violence, in order to fight for all our might in order to avoid it happening. Still, Emmanuel Dongala has not made it an easy duty. The other character Laokole, displays the kind of courage that we would all like to have, but know deeply that only disastrous circumstances can create. Her pain, her trip, her refugee state, all those facts remind us how helpless human beings are when faced to unnecessary violence.
“Johnny Chien Méchant” happens in Central Africa, and is more focused on civil war and tribal considerations. Still, I could not help thinking about Middle East and those countries currently facing similar situations: Syria, Irak, etc… In all those countries, youth are also used from time to time as soldiers. In those countries, supposedly great motives are portrayed by all fighting factions to justify their ill-deeds. In those countries, millions of people are sent on the streets, suddenly flying for survival, with no other choice than moving forward. On top of Middle East, I could mention Congo-Kinshassa, still a great source of concern but I would not, because this would give the impression, that war, violence and pain are just an African Evil.
“Johnny Chien Méchant” is a solid reminder that life has a value. It is a solid reminder, that the worse can happen in a few seconds. It is a perfect reminder that we should never take anything for granted and fight for our dreams until they are completely out of sight.
“Johnny Chien Méchant’ is a powerful ode to life, despite the pain, the wars, the violence. It is an ode to education. It is an ode to dreams, to hope. Emmanuel Dongala, once more had the perfect writing. Discover another book from him, reviewed here.
In the meantime, I will stop here. I finished the book, one hour ago. My thoughts still go back to Johnny Chien Méchant, Laoekele, Fofo and all the vivid characters, I just read about.
I hope this review was inspiring because this book is without any doubt a must-read.
PS: This book published in 2002 has inspired in 2008 the movie “Johnny Mad Dog”. It can be an option, for those who are not fans of reading.