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Seven Houses in France

Seven Houses in France

Author(s): Bernardo Atxaga

Location(s): Congo (Democratic Republic of)

Genre(s): Fiction

Era(s): Early 20th century



Seven houses in France is set in the Congo in 1903-1904. Atxaga takes it for granted that Belgian imperialism was criminally responsible for this Heart of Darkness. Against this background, his main interest is to explore the feelings and behaviour of the group of white officers confined in the Yangambi garrison.

The novel opens with the young Chrysostome arriving on the weekly river boat for his first posting. Quickly, the other officers find he is proudly religious and does not want to get drunk, play cards or rape local women. He doesn’t laugh at the other officers’ crude jokes. These murderers in uniform despise him, but fear him too. They cannot understand his purity and, even more relevant, he is the best shot any of them have ever seen, capable of downing a moving monkey at two hundred yards. The outsider Chrysostome will be the catalyst that changes everything.

The dangers surrounding the jungle outpost are real enough: the threat of armed attack, of rebellion by the enslaved black workers extracting rubber, of disease and of snakes, especially the black mambas that live among the fronds of palm trees. However, it is the white officers’ dreams and weaknesses that threaten their stability more than military attacks or tropical hazards. The white men’s burden is themselves. Envy, ambition and cruelty corrode their community. (the Indedependent)

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Lead Review

Seven Houses is an enjoyable, somewhat frightening novel by one of Europe’s best novelists. Don’t be put off by its non-Basque theme: Atxaga is still the master of a complex story, told with deceptive...

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