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Seven Houses in France: A Novel Paperback – September 4, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Atxaga’s novel is much more than a mere chronicle of the colonial era. Inevitably, the reader thinks of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. . . but Atxaga’s story focuses on more intimate corruptions, disappearances more personal and profound, on anxieties more in the spirit of Camus than in the author of Lord Jim.” —El País

About the Author

Bernardo Atxaga is a prizewinning novelist and poet, whose books, including Obabakoak and The Accordionist’s Son, have won critical acclaim in Spain and abroad. His works have been translated into twenty-two languages, and he lives in the Basque country.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555976239
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555976231
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,214,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Acorn on August 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Set in the opening years of the 20th century in a military outpost in the Belgian Congo, this novel is a lucid depiction of the cruelty and greed at the heart of empire. The soldiers in Yangambi are led by Lalande Biran, a captain and middling poet who is increasingly tired of his daily grind in the jungle. He works only to satisfy the demands of his Paris-based wife, who has a dream of owning seven houses in France. His lonely pleasures are poetry and having sex with young virgins that his soldiers bring back from raids on nearby villages.

Biran is involved in smuggling mahogany and ivory, in cahoots with his lieutenant nicknamed Cocó and, back in Belgium, an adviser to King Leopold II. The racket has made all three men rich and they are close to realising their dream of a comfortable retirement back home.

Into this seedy world of Yangambi comes Chrysostome Liège, a taciturn officer who quickly impresses everyone with his marksmanship. But he does not mix well and avoids the company of women. Cocó is convinced that Chrysostome is homosexual and conspires with others to prove this. He is very wrong, which only fuels his jealousy and anger towards the newcomer. We learn that Chrysostome's aversion to women is born of an obsession with purity and a devotion to religion. Neither purity nor religion goes down well here. For the other officers such things have long since rotted away in the heat and isolation.

Biran becomes excited by the prospect of a visit to Yangambi by King Leopold, but the visit is progressively downgraded and Biran sees his hopes of fame and favour with the king fast receding.
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Format: Paperback
When young Chrysostome Liege arrives by boat to begin his service in the Belgian Force Publique for King Leopold II in the Congo, he is clearly an innocent - a shy, religious, and humorless young man thrust into circumstances which challenge everything he, and the reader, consider "civilized." It is 1903, and the Congo is King Leopold's private fiefdom since he is the sole shareholder of a "non-governmental organization" which makes no pretense of benevolence. From the beginning, the King has used the Congo for his own purposes, forcing an unwilling native population to supply huge amounts of ivory, mahogany, minerals, and rubber which would benefit only him.

For the soldiers in Leopold's Force Publique, especially those assigned to remote areas like Yangambi, where Chrysostome will be working, an outside social milieu does not exist. The soldiers obey the obvious protocols of the military, but there are only seventeen Belgian officers at the garrison, and with no active rebellion by native groups to keep them occupied, at the moment, they have far too much time on their hands. Might makes right here, and once they have performed their assigned duties, they enter a world which truly becomes a "jungle"--drinking, gambling, pursuing women, shooting animals for fun, and even, in some cases, smuggling ivory and mahogany back to Europe, where the profits will allow one wife to own "seven houses in France" in seven years.

When the King plans a visit, bringing a famous dancer from Philadelphia, whom he plans to make Queen of the Congo, all garrison activity is organized to promote this. Henry Morton Stanley will accompany the King and will attend the coronation of the new Queen beside Stanley Falls.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
The book opens with a rather dour new officer arriving by boat on his first posting abroad. The officer, Chrysostome, doesn't attempt to fit in with his fellow officers and they, in turn, despise his puritan upbringing, not only is he blatantly religious to a fundamental degree, but he refuses the usual soldierly fun of gambling, getting drunk and raping the native womenfolk . They also fear him. This man could shoot the eyebrows of a mosquito at five hundred paces.

The setting for this novel is the garrison of Yagambi, on the banks of the River Congo and the year is 1903. The senior officer is Captain Lalande Biran, who would prefer to be back in Paris frequenting the lounges of the Literati with his wife (more of her later), & releasing the odd book of poetry than commanding eighteen white officers of the Force Publique and the Askaris - native soldiers recruited to help quell the other natives who have the audacity to rebel intermittently.

Time goes really slow here, with very little to do beyond overseeing the slaves as they work, producing rubber and mahogany and keeping the natives in order. So time is spent drinking, gambling & consorting/raping the natives, there are dangers even here as STD's* seems to be everywhere, although most of the officers are not particularly worried. Except the Captain, he is so terrified of catching syphilis, that he has an officer pick & test girls for their virginity & then keep them caged until he's ready.

Captain Lalande Biran's wife, Christine, is a stunner and the reason he is out here.
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