Life and a Half

Life and a Half

A Novel
Sony Labou Tansi, edited by Introduction by Dominic Thomas. Translated by Alison Dundy. Sony Labou Tansi
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/15/2011
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-22287-9
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Finalist, 2011 French-American Foundation Translation Prize

Listed as one of the 100 best books on Africa, Life and a Half was Sony Labou Tansi’s response to the death of close friends during a bloody military and political crackdown in Congo. The novel takes place in an imaginary African country run by the latest in a series of cannibalistic dictators who has captured Martial, the leader of the opposition, and his family. Though shot, knifed, butchered, and bled, Martial’s spirit lives on to guide his followers in their fight against the dictators. Facing censorship, Tansi insisted that his book was a fable and that if he were ever given the opportunity to write about real events, he would be much more direct rather than follow the torturous paths of a novel. This crisp translation by Alison Dundy maintains the fast-paced action and bitingly satiric tone of the original.

Author Bio

Sony Labou Tansi (1947–1995) was a Congolese novelist, playwright, and poet whose groundbreaking work transformed postcolonial francophone African literature.

Alison Dundy translates from French and Italian. She specializes in literature, social sciences, and art.


“One of the 100 best books on Africa, this fast-paced and bitingly satiric novel takes place in an imaginary African country run by the latest in a series of cannibalistic dictators who has captured the leader of the opposition and his family.”

“Life and a Half is a place and a time of half-death—or, if one prefers, half-life. It is a place where life and death are so entangled that it is no longer possible to distinguish them, or to say what is on the side of the shadow or its obverse.”
 — Achille Mbembe

“[T]he novel's treatment of the themes of oppression and resistance is universal enough to find echoes throughout the developing world, not just Africa, and the book is as relevant today as it was when originally published. September 2011”
 — Choice

“Sony's writing is vivid and inventive . . . It makes for a powerful and often fascinating if also often frustrating read. July 10, 2011”
 — The Complete Review

“. . . a useful reminder of the greater depth of the African canon, and of the literary gems to be found in francophone Africa . . . . Sony Labou Tansi's Life and a Half seethes with the violence and disappointment of the turbulent post-independence period in his native Congo. . . . The relentless satire is so angry, and so startling it is not always easy to read—but as his great Congolese successor Alain Mabanckou has written, Life and a Half was one of the 'founders of the new francophone literature'.”
 — The Times Literary Supplement

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Table of Contents

Translator's Preface
Introduction: Sony Labou Tansi--The Conscience of Africa and the Voice of the People / Dominic Thomas

Warning by Sony Labou Tansi

Life and a Half