A sweeping historical novel and an intergenerational family saga about the mysterious disappearance of a Congolese princess and the niece who is determined to uncover her fate more than four decades later, by the internationally acclaimed and award-winning Congolese Canadian author Blaise Ndala.
April 1958. Princess Tshala Nyota, daughter of King Kena Kwete III of the Kuba people in Congo, is among the eleven “villagers” put on display at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. After the humiliation of the Nazi occupation, the royal palace is determined to restore the Belgian colonial empire’s honor and prestige by showcasing the successful “civilization” of Congo, Belgium’s “model colony,” at one of the biggest international events since the end of the Second World War.
The young princess recounts her journey from her home of Kasaï to a Catholic school run by nuns, where she meets and falls madly in love with a handsome Belgian administrator. But when her father discovers the affair, his fury cannot be contained. Fearing for her life and his own, Tshala’s lover sends her to Léopoldville to stay with his friend, a collector and dealer specializing in African art. In the capital, she is immersed in a world pulsing with youth, sex, energy, and hope for the new independent republic. But when Tshala is betrayed by her lover’s friend, she is sent to Brussels and her forced exhibition at Expo ’58. Soon after, she mysteriously disappears.
August 2003. Nyota Kwete, the princess’s niece, is sent to Brussels to continue her education at the university. Before she departs, her father charges her with the task of discovering the fate of the missing princess. In Brussels, she is welcomed by the Congolese diaspora community and crosses paths with a Belgian scholar who is haunted by his own ghosts. Together, they uncover important secrets that were taken to the grave.
In this internationally acclaimed and award-winning novel, Congolese Canadian author Blaise Ndala examines Belgium and Congo’s colonial past and current legacy through the lives of two unforgettable women, connected by family and history across continents and decades.
About the authors
Blaise Ndala is an award-winning novelist. His first novel, J’irai danser sur la tombe de Senghor, won the Ottawa Book Prize in the French Fiction category, was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award, and has been optioned by the award-winning French film director and producer Rachid Bouchareb. His second novel, Sans capote ni kalachnikov, won the 2019 edition of the Combat national des livres de Radio-Canada and was also a finalist for the Trillium Book Award, Les Afriques Prize, the Black Africa Literary Prize, and the Prix Ivoire for African Literature (Special Mention). His latest novel, Dans le ventre du Congo (In the Belly of the Congo), won the Prix Kourouma and the Prix Ivoire for African Literature, and was also a finalist for the Grand Prix du Roman Métis, the Five Continents of the Francophonie Prize, and the Porte Dorée Literary Prize. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Blaise Ndala emigrated to Canada in 2007. He worked as a representative in Haiti for the NGO Avocats sans frontières Canada and is now a jurist in Ottawa. Connect with him at his website BlaiseNdala.com or on Twitter at @Blaise_Ndala.
“Ndala paints a compelling picture of his heroines . . . but as he moves between the 1950s and the early 2000s, he keeps his sights and his readers’ on the long-deferred reckoning of Belgium and Congo with their colonial past.”
— Five Books
“Echoes of a suppressed past, subtle but highly charged writing, and random chance weave throughout the stories within stories that make up Blaise Ndala’s marvelous In the Belly of the Congo . . . compelling.”
— Toronto Star
“Dynamic, sensuous, and intensely alive . . . In this, his long-overdue debut in English, Blaise Ndala has crafted a novel of passion, insight, and relevance.”
— C.S. RICHARDSON, award-winning author of All the Colour in the World
“A work that explores with panache the complexity of colonial and post-colonial relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Belgium . . . successful thanks to the talent of the author, who in a few sentences can take the reader from the darkest years of colonial history to the languor of Congolese rumba, from the intense pain of a punch in the stomach to the passion of a romantic relationship.”
— Le Monde
“Blaise Ndala colorfully makes African history resonate.”
— Le Point
“Stimulating . . . Ndala digs deep into themes of love, colonialism, and fate.”
— Publishers Weekly
“A harrowing story, beautifully told. Blaise Ndala's searing depiction of the effects of Belgium’s mission civilisatrice in the Congo should send shivers of recognition down spines in any country shaped by European imperialism—including our own.”
— WAYNE GRADY, award-winning author of Emancipation Day and The Good Father
“Inside the belly of this masterfully crafted journey is a series of love stories reminiscent of Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah in its love and study of community, people, and places. And with that much love comes a series of unflinching betrayals. Ndala’s work is exciting and heartbreaking in its exacting style. I left this book feeling deeply punctuated.”
— TÉA MUTONJI, award-winning author of Shut Up, You’re Pretty
“[A]n ambitious story, crossing continents and decades . . . complicated and heartbreaking . . . In the Belly of the Congo is a beautifully written, beautifully translated novel.”
— The Miramichi Reader
“A profound and compelling novel, told on an epic scale. Shifting seamlessly between the vicious brutality of colonial rule and the poetry of love and connection, it celebrates the voices of resistance to oppression and prejudice. A central and powerful theme is the need and the search for truth about the past. This is a book for our times—and for people everywhere.”
— SUSAN WILLIAMS, author of White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa