Kamby Bolongo Mean River

Kamby Bolongo Mean River, Robert Lopez’s hypnotic second novel, is the story of a young man who finds himself confined and under observation, the subject of seemingly pointless tests. His only link to the outside world is a telephone that will not dial out. During the occasional calls he receives, usually wrong numbers, the narrator remembers his former life growing up in Injury, Alaska with his Mother, an often unemployed single parent, and his older brother, Charlie, a sometime boxer, sometime actor.

Throughout the course of this extraordinary novel, the unwilling captive draws his life-story in stick figures on the walls. From the difficulty of his birth, to his sickly childhood, to adventures with his brother, the narrator depicts his crazy life, which is at once fascinating and heartbreaking. The one memory that haunts him is that of watching a movie about slaves on television and how that one slave, the one for whom Kamby Bolongo Mean River meant freedom, would never relinquish the idea of returning home.

Darkly hilarious with a crushing emotional impact, Kamby Bolongo Mean River is a brilliant study of familial bonds and trauma, isolation and captivity, hope and hopelessness.


Praise and Reviews

Kamby Bolongo Mean River is an original and fearless fiction. It bears genetic traces of Beckett and Stein, but Robert Lopez's powerful cadences and bleak, joyful wit are all his own.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land

“In Kamby Bolongo Mean River damage and delusion walk hand in hand, and everything we think we know is gradually called into question. Reading like a cross between Samuel Beckett’s ‘The Calmative’ and Gordon Lish’s Dear Mr. Capote, Robert Lopez’s new novel gets under your skin and latches on.” —Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain

"Lopez is obviously an adoring, straight-A student of Beckett and David Markson. Like Beckett’s Molloy, Johnny presents himself as a man trapped in a room; like Molloy, Johnny has no real sense of how he ended up in that room; like Molloy, he is isolated from the world outside that room, and like Molloy, the man has a complicated relationship with his mother. And like Markson’s Kate (fromWittgenstein’s Mistress), Johnny attempts to cover the chaos of his life by selecting and ordering language, a language delivered in chilly, spare, white-spaced paragraphs. But the tenderness with which Lopez treats these fragile characters, the honesty in their rendering, the lullaby of loneliness that coos through this world, whispering along the banks of the Kamby Bolongo and above the rooftops of Injury, Alaska; Johnny’s longing, his fear, his isolation—all of these are pure Lopez." The Brooklyn Rail

"In his second novel,  Robert Lopez once again taps a deeply comedic voice to record a character’s gradual estrangement and withdrawal from the world in which he’s ensnared... A narrative within the narrative takes shape, a prelinguistic one reminiscent of prehistoric cave paintings. He is tracing back toward the origin of his voice. He has a plan, and as the brilliant pacing and rhythm of the narrative drive toward its conclusion, this excellent novel forces a reconsideration of the very concept of a native language." —The Quarterly Conversation

"In examining confinement the novel certainly telegraphs the stark spirit of Samuel Beckett's later writings, yet Lopez's innovative meditation on isolation is singular in its grim humor and emotional influence. Framed by the obsessively bizarre yet sincere outlook of a young man held under observation in unknown environs, Kamby Bolongo is a mesmeric interpretation of words: 'what is between the words and behind them.'" Bookslut

"Form reflects subject here: this is a story at full steam, one that cannot be bogged down by traditional conventions. The short, frequently spaced sections of decongested text come out chapterless, in a controlled tumble... Lopez’s wise choice to avoid extraneous punctuation reinforces the urgency of the narrator’s voice. Kamby Bolongo Mean River begs to be read in one sitting, and the syntax—the hypnotic looping, the relentless unpacking of sentences—reverberates long after the novel is put down." 360 Main Street

"[Kamby Bolongo Mean River reads] hot and swift only to expand with cooling thoughtful quips disguised by sparse and simple language as with the effect of a good poem, a funny country song about mom and her shot gun, or a quote from Plato swirled into a sad and captivating story." Gently Read Literature

"Kamby Bolongo Mean River is a slim-spare novel that clips along psychotically. At a mere 177 pages it seems impossible that Robert Lopez has packed so much into the work." Dark Sky Magazine

"Robert Lopez’s carefully crafted, insistent prose is matched by his bold exploration of madness, abuse, emotional and psychological trauma, isolation, but also of one man’s self-motivated, if still ill-directed, plan for rehabilitation. Kamby Bolongo Mean River may just tie both your brain and stomach into knots." Word Riot

"Through astonishingly organic and layered language, Robert Lopez has created an inner world so remarkable you might fall over with fright, and then stay on the floor to laugh a while." --Southeast Review

Robert Lopez's Kamby Bolongo Mean River, the book that beat all other books for me that year, (2009). It's become a book that constantly haunts my desk, no matter how many times I try to return it to the shelves. There's so much to admire about the book, from its formal elements—it's written in short, beautiful paragraphs, full of repetition and empty of commas—to its fantastic narrator, a character in possession of one of the most uniquely rendered and affecting modes of speech in recent memory. This is a novel no one should miss. ---- Matt Bell in essay from Post Road

Kamby Bolongo Mean River is fluid and funny and moving on a first read, but its exploration of existence and isolation gets smarter, funnier, and deeper every time I read it, and its construction tighter and more satisfying.-- Sam Ligon in essay from Lit Pub

"Lopez's prose is more like a great jazz performance: pointedly provisional, even damaged, and solicitous of audience participation ... intoxicating as the best Coltrane." - Review of Contemporary Fiction