Alain Mabanckou’s vibrant novel follows an orphan making a life for himself in the people’s republic of the 1970s

Congolese author Alain Mabanckou’s Bildungsroman charts both the formative years of his hero – “Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko,” in possession of the “most kilometrically extended name in the entire orphanage of Loango, the entire town, in fact, and possibly the entire country,” shortened for ease to “Moses” – and those of the People’s Republic of the Congo, as the Marxist-Leninist revolution of 1970 heralds a new age. Fleeing the relative safety of the orphanage, the only home he’s ever known, Moses makes a life for himself among the villainous “Merry Men” in Pointe-Noire and the friendly Zairean prostitutes of the Trois-Cents quarter. It is far from a peaceful existence, though, and pursuit by the authorities ultimately sends Moses over the edge into madness. Evocatively translated from the original French by Helen Stevenson, this International Man Booker longlisted novel is a rip-roaring ride from innocence to experience.

• Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou is published by Serpent’s Tail (£12.99). To order a copy for £11.04, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

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