By Mamadou Diallo
African Francophone literature seems to me so much less vibrant these days and less favourable for emerging new voices than its Anglophone counterpart. In 2015, much like in 2014, most of the fiction works I read were published in English speaking Africa. However, I interrupted my unpatriotic escapades out of the Francophonie in order to delve back.
Despite being set in the imaginary city Kalep, Mohammed Moubar Sarr’s novel Terre Ceinte abounds with references to Senegalese society and customs. The city of Kalep, like Tombouctou in 2012, is held hostage by a radical Islamist group. In a context where daily life and rules have been radically transformed and old habits are punished by public executions, the characters are faced with harsh situations. Terre Ceinte was awarded the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize and is in my opinion the most impressive debut witnessed in Senegalese literature since the 2009 publishing of Dahij by Felwine Sarr.
Another novel that draws from the world’s contemporary turmoil is Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra’s La dernière nuit du Raïs, or The Dictator’s last night. The narrator of the novel is Mouammar Gaddafi, as imagined by Khadra, recounting the last hours of his life. The novel begins in Syrte, in a bombed school were Gaddafi and his closest collaborators are hiding from rebel forces and NATO drones. Khadra’s beautiful prose tells a tragedy which paints, without naïvety, a nuanced portrait of Colonel Gaddafi and reflects, while so doing, on what it is to be a potentate.
Two fiction works from Guinean authors made the francophone news outlets headlines in 2015: Les coqs cubains chantent à minuit by Tierno Monenembo and Tachetures by Hakim Bah. Monenembo is one of the great names of Francophone African literature. As soon as the beginning of the 80’s, Les écailles du ciel and Un rêve utile paved the way for The King of Kahel, which in 2008 won the prestigious Prix Renaudot. In Les coqs cubains chantent à minuit, his last novel, the plot unfurls in Cuba. Although we Africans know a thing or two about making dancehall music, in the 60’s and 70’s, we were taking lessons from Cuba. Hence, music occupies an important space in the latest Monenembo novel.
More of a surprise was the emergence, on the Francophone literary scene, of Tachetures, Hakim Bah’s short story collection, published by Conkary’s own les éditions Gandal. Tachetures, written in a very distinct prose with fragmented sentences and impactful repetitions, is one of the good surprises of 2015. Made of six short stories, Tachetures plunges its reader in a world abandoned by joy and possessed by unhappy ends. In the six short stories, some inspired by recent Guinean history, Hakim Bah tells tales of an oppressed youth, especially of young women, who are the targets of absurd violence from their elders, the state, and family/ customs.
In Tunis, Les éditions Elyzad started a fiction collection dedicated to writers and artists of the continent with Le soleil sans bruler, by Togolese writer Théo Ananissoh. In Le soleil sans se bruler, Ananissoh is having a conversation with the protagonist, his old friend Sony Labou Tansi, writer of that hallucinatory and foundational book La vie et demie (Life and a Half). Surprisingly in a book dedicated to his memory, the evocations of Sony Labou Tansi are not hagiographic. Le Soleil sans se brûler is as much a homage as it is a critique because beyond Sony Labou Tansi lies a wider subject: the African intellectual in the postcolony and the vulnerability of integrity to the challenges raised by powers.
Cameroonian Hemley Boum’s Les Maquisards revisits her country’s independence war. Les Maquisards is set in Camreoon’s Bassa Region and revolves around the 1958 execution of Ruben Um Nyobe, the independence movement leader who has been a subject of many literary works, including Mongo Beti’s Remember Ruben. Hemley Boum, in an epic saga spanning four hundred pages, patiently explores that foundational historical moment through the stories of three generations of Bassas spanning from 1948 to 1999. Les Maquisards, although dealing with political struggle and coming as a timely reminder of Ruben Um Nyobe’s assassination, manages to let complex human identities, their feelings, and lives flourish on its pages.
Volcaniques: Une anthologie du plaisir edited by Cameroonian novelist Léonora Miano deals with the broad subject that is feminine pleasure. Volcaniques comes after Première nuit (which was about male pleasure) and features eleven short stories and a poem from female writers from Africa and the diaspora. Stories include a teenage girl who spends a year trading erotic books with a male classmate; a woman finding temporary substitutes to her impotent husband; and fifty years of sexual misery. Though the context, tone, and quality of writing vary, all of the stories revolve around desire.