Category: Senegal

David Diop: Frère d’âme (At Night All Blood Is Black)

The latest addition to my website is David Diop‘s Frère d’âme (At Night All Blood Is Black). This book won the International Booker Prize in 2021. It tells the story of Alfa Ndiaye and his friend, Mademba Diop, Senegalese soldiers fighting for the French in World War I. Mademba is killed by a German pretending to be dead, who stabs him in the stomach. Alfa gets his revenge by hiding near shell-holes and killing any emerging Germans. He carries back their rifles, with the severed hands holding the rifle, back to the trenches. He is initially feted but then, when he continues, feared as a madman and sent to the rear to rest. In the rear, we learn of his past and his voyage of self-discovery, with Diop using fable, legend and inner psychology to aid him. It is a superb read, mixing conventional realism and more traditional forms.

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr: La Plus Secrète Mémoire des hommes [The Most Secret Memory of Men]

The latest addition to my website is Mohamed Mbougar Sarr‘s Plus Secrète Mémoire des hommes [The Most Secret Memory of Men]. African writers have done well with literary prizes in 2021, winning the Nobel Prize, the International Booker (a French national but of Senegalese heritage) and the Booker Prize. This novel, the longest (by far) of the four, the only one not written in English (and, at the time of writing, not available in translation) and written by the youngest of the four authors, won the Prix Goncourt.

The novel was influenced by the story of the Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem whose novel Le Devoir de violence (Bound to Violence) was hailed as a great work but then accused of plagiarism. Ouologuem disappeared to a remote village in Mali. This story is about a fictitious Senegalese writer, T C Elimane who, in 1938, published Le Labyrinthe de l’inhumain [The Labyrinth of the Inhuman], hailed as a great novel and then accused of plagiarism. He, too, disappeared and various people try to track him down culminating with the narrator, a young and not very successful Senegalese writer, Diégane Latyr Faye. He gets the back story – gradually – from a few other people and it is complicated, involving Nazis, , a Haitian woman poet, a strip club, lots of criticism of racism, a fair amount of (but not too much) sex, including at least one episode qualifying for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, polygamy, the use of mystic, otherworldly powers, World War I and World War II, blindness, the horrors in what was Zaire and unreliable narrators. The story is superbly told and written in a beautiful French and clearly deserving of winning the Prix Goncourt. It has yet to be translated but almost certainly will be and, when it appears in English, I can highly recommend it.

Cheikh Hamidou Kane: L’aventure ambigue (Ambiguous Adventure)

The latest addition to my website is Cheikh Hamidou Kane‘s L’aventure ambigue (Ambiguous Adventure). This is a semi-autobiographical novel about Samba Diallo, son of a Senegalese chief. He is a committed Muslim (like nearly all Senegalese) and clearly believes the Senegalese should follow the Muslim way. However, he is sent to France and very much struggles with the issue of how an African can retain his essential values and fit in to the modern world. He spends much time contemplating and discussing this and does not really come to a conclusion. This book is not a particularly easy read, as it is deadly serious throughout and the characters tend to speak as philosophers and theologians, using aphorisms and learned arguments, rather than as ordinary people.

Aminata Sow Fall: La Grève des bàttu (The Beggars’ Strike)

The latest addition to my website is Aminata Sow Fall‘s La Grève des bàttu (The Beggars’ Strike). This is a mocking satire on officialdom in Senegal (though neither the country nor the city where it takes place are named). The city, presumably, Dakar, is overrun with beggars and the public health department is given the task of clearing them. Mour Ndiaye, head of the department, who is corrupt and incompetent, delegates the task to his assistant, who manages to get rid of them by moving them to a village 300 kilometres away. As a result, the beggars go on strike, which means that the Muslim population cannot perform its charitable obligations. Now there is talk of Ndiaye being made vice-president. He consults his marabouts (Muslim gurus) who tell him that he must make a sacrifice of a bull and give the meat to beggars in all four corners of the city. However, there are now no beggars in any corner of the city and those elsewhere are on strike. Sow Fall mocks Ndiaye, and mocks the corruption and sexism of Senegalese men and tells an amusing story. Surprisingly, the book has been translated into English.

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