Adonis Diaries

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Part 3. An excursion with French-speaking African authors (Francophone authors)

Is the African Francophone literature considered an integral part of French literature?  Many French authors disagree that African and former colonial country authors can be considered as forming the characteristics of French mentality or philosophy… Most famous African authors are generally twined to other French authors, like “The African Voltaire”, “The African Victor Hugo, Proust…”

Alain Mabanckou, an author from the Congo Brazzaville or (Rep. of Congo), and who published “Writers and birds of migration” claims that Francophone literature are encouraged for its “utilitarian angle” to counter the current pervasive English domination, and is denied esthetic autonomy… As a kid, Arthur Rimbaud must have been a black author to Alain:  his father read only Rimbaud. One of Rimbaud’s poems “Bad Blood” reads:

Yes, my eyes are shut to your light.  I am a beast and a nigger. But I can be saved.  You are (the colonial Europeans) false niggers. You are maniacal, ferocious, and stingy niggers. Merchant, you are a nigger.  Judge, you are a nigger. Military officer, an old itching wound, you are a nigger.  You all have drunk from a non-taxed liquor, manufactured by Satan…”

Alain described his meeting with many African Francophone authors.  In the two previous posts, I related the meetings with

1. Ahmadou Kourouna (Ivory Coast): “Les soleils des independance” (Suns of Independence), “En attendant le vote des betes sauvage” (Waiting for the vote of the beasts), and “Allah n’est pas oblige” (Allah has no obligation),

2. Sony Labou Tansi (Congo Brazzaville or Rep.of Congo): “La vie et demi” (The life and a half),

3. Sami Tchak from Togo: “Place des fetes” (Festivities square), “Hermina, daughter of Mexico”, “Infidel woman”, and ”The Malian Al Capone”

4. Laye Camara (1928-80) from Guinea:  “L’ Enfant Noir” (The Black kid).

This post recounts the meetings of Alain Mabanckou with late author Jean-Marie Adiaffi (Ivory Coast).

“I met Adiaffi in the 90’s at the University Paris 12.  Two comedians were to recite a few pf my poems.  Adiaffi took to the podium and said: “I hate microphone” and set it aside and delivered his talk.  At the refectory, I told Adiaffi if he would consider writing a preface for my new book of poems “The Legend of errance”.

Adiaffi almost choked on the chicken leg he was eating and replied in anger: “Prefaces are serious matters and written to acclaimed and recognized author. Beside that, you have got to know that get paid for prefaces…It is not because I had a couple of glasses of wine that you think you can abuse of me…” I was very upset with this highly arrogant African author and left the room without turning back.

A year later, we met again at Ivry-sur Seine at the residence of my friend author Paul Dakeyo. Adiaffi looked me up and said: “Another author from the Congo…I consider there are too many of them in this field.  Possibly it is because the authors from the Congo have the River and the Sea…” and he laughed.  Adiaffi discovered my newly published collection of poems on the table and turned red with anger. He said: “You asked Pius Ngandu Nkashama to preface your book, when it was I who was to do it?  Where is my copy?” I gave him the one on the table and he demanded: “Erase Dakeyo and sign my name instead…”

Adiaffi asked me to accompany him to Paris. As we stepped out of the metro, Adiaffi saw a tall black young girl in tight jeans and loudly said to me: “Have you noticed her behind? She must be from Ivory Coast”.  The girl turned around and said: “I don’t know you. How did you guess that I am from Ivory Coast?”

Adiaffi was besides himself and the girl insisted: “The only book of an African author that I have read was “The Little Prince of Belleville” by Calix of Beyala…” Adiaffi cut her off: “Are you sure you are from Ivory Coast…?”  The girl said: “My mother is French…”  Adiaffi said: “Surely your father must have read my books…” The girl was smiling and leaving.  Adiaffi ran after her and commanded her to follow him.

We stopped at a bookstore and Adiaffi bought the girl two of his books “Identity card” and Silence, we are developing”.  Adiaffi said: “Read them and write to me at this address…I know you are from the Agni tribe and you will learn some of the Agni culture when you visit Abidjean…You should visit my museum…”

Adiaffi turned to me and resumed: “See? This girl has never been comfortable with her African roots…”

Alain Mabanckou mentioned many African and “colored” Francophone authors such as the authors in north Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tuninis): Yahyia Belaski, Anouar Benmalek, Kateb Yacine, Mahmoud Mammeri, Rachid Mimouni, Mohammed Dib, Kebir Amin, Salim Bachi, Asia Djebbar, Edouard Glissant, Maryse Conde, Emmanuel Dongala…

Like Yambo Ouologuen “Le Livre de violence (The book of violence)”, Ahmadou Kourouma ”Les soleils des independance” (Suns of Independence), “En attendant le vote des betes sauvage” (Waiting for the vote of the beasts), and “Allah n’est pas oblige” (Allah has no obligation).

The authors who emulated the novel of “The black kids” are: “Climbie” by Bernard Dadie, “Kocumbo, the black student” by Ake Loba, and “Ambiguous adventure” by Cheikh Hamidou Kane, and the contemporary “All this blue, Ma” by Gaston Paul Effa.

Like Sony Labou Tansi (Cameroun) “La vie et demi” (The life and a half), Arenas Reinaldo (Cuba): “Trois tristes ” (Three sad tigers), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Cuba) ” Pere tranquille” (Father Cool), Sami Tchak (Togo) “Place des fetes” (Festivities square), “Hermina, daughter of Mexico”, “Infidel woman”, and ”The Malian Al Capone”

Like James Baldwin (USA) “The room of Giovanni”, Gary Victor (Haiti) “13 vaudou novellas”,  “At the angel of parallel streets”

Note: Alain Mabanckou is born in the Rep. of Congo (a Francophone State) in 1966.  He is professor of Francophone literature in UCLA.  He published “Broken Glass”, “Black Bazar”, letter to Jimmy (James Baldwin)”, and “Tomorrow I’ll be 20″…

Part 1. An excursion with French-speaking African authors (Francophone authors)

Alain Mabanckou, an author from the Congo Brazzaville called Rep. of Congo, published “writers and birds of migration“.  Alain described his meeting with many African Francophone authors.  Here are samples of the stories.

On Ahmadou Kourouma (The African Voltaire?) from Ivory Coast: In early 1990’s, Ahmadou visited Paris for the Salon of book. He was a tall old man, wearing dark suit and thick eye glasses and moving swiftly amid the crowd. Ahmadou seemed kind of disoriented and approached my stand to buy my book of poems. I refused to take the money on account that he is a Classic African author. Ahmadou laughed and said: “The youth are constantly “mommifying” the elder authors” and he quickly left the salon.

Two years later, I met Ahmadou in Abidjan and handed him my latest “Blue White and Red” and he sent me a letter that I kept as a trophy. For many years it was complete silence: I was under the impression that Ahmadou will be known for his only two books: “The suns of independence” and “Money, outrage and defiance“. As Cheikh Hamidou Khane is known for his “Ambiguous Adventure“, or Yambo Ouologuen for his “The duty of violence”…

By the end of the 90’s, I met Ahmadou in another salon of the book in Charente-Maritime: He was the main invitee. We were lodged in a medieval house along with my friend Pius Ngandu Nkashama. Kourouma would have loved to be assigned in the main floor: He had difficulty climbing the stairs. Kourouma was writing a new novel and he told us at breakfast: “I am a dying volcano: I may eject the remaining of my lava in my new book…It might be titled “Waiting for the vote of the wild beasts”.

This book would launch Kourouma as a successful author, and the next book “Allah is not obligated” will consecrate him in the  summit of the Francophone authors and received the Renaudot Prize.

On Sony Labou Tansi (The equivalent to the French Rabelais) from Congo Brazzaville:  Sony published his first book “The life and a half” in 1979 and it became a cult book and Sony was compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I waited two years before I made the short journey to his hometown of Makelekele. I was attending Law School and I had no difficulty locating his residence: Everybody in town knew him. Sony was engaged in a game of volley ball in the wild field by his house.

At the first break, Sony invited me to his run-down wood house: I had to part wild branches in this small tropical forest. The door was never locked. Two huge posters of Che Guevara and Bob Marley were hung.  There was no typewriter, and no bibliotheque. Two candles illuminated a page that Sony was handwriting. He said: “I am trying to finish “The seven solitudes of Lorsa Lopez“.

I discovered just two books: The Illuminations by Rimbaud and “Chronicle of an announced death”by Marquez. Sony sat on the ground and I said:

Frankly, I write occasionally, but it is not real literature. I write poems…” Sony replied: “It is not easy to publish books of poetry. I also wrote poems in the beginning and they were refused, although I wrote prefaces to famous poets.  It is as if there could be no valid poets in Africa after Senghor and Cesaire. You have to keep trying: You might be luckier than me.  Do not limit your reading to French and African poets.  Open up to Neruda, Octavio Paz, Giacomo Leopardi, Pouchkine…You’ll find copies in the French Cultural Center.  Read a lot before trying to write. This is the only secret to writing well. For the time being, give priority to novels.”

Sony retrieved a dusty manuscript of his “The life and a half” and handed it to me. And he returned to his volleyball game saying: “Consider this house as yours”. I kept the manuscript for an entire year before leaving to France: The handwriting was straight, willing, and very few corrections…

Two years later, Sony was invited at a TV show of Cavada “The March of the century“. I retrieved Sony’s manuscript to return as I see him. Sony was surprised to see me before the show and said: “Let’s meet after the show”. He asked me: “What have you published since then?” I replied: “No editor would publish me…”  Sony said: “Proust also was refused…”  I gave him his manuscript and he exclaimed: “I have been calling all my friends to return it, and searched the house as I never did before…” (To be continued)

Alain Mabanckou revealed that the ten books he would take to an isolated island would be:

1.  Le Livre de ma mere (The book of mother) by the Swiss Albert Cohen

2.  L’Enfant Noir(The black kid): Camara Laye from Guinea

3.  L’Ivrogne dans la brousse (The drunk in the bushland): Amos Tutuola

4.  Le Tunnel (The Tunnel): Late Ernesto Sabato (Argentina)

5.  Le Tambour (The drum):  Gunter Grass

6.  Pays sans chapeau ( Countries without hat): Dany Laferriere (Haiti)

7.  Of mice and man: John Steinbeck

8.  The music: Yukio Mishima

9. The contemplations: The French Victor Hugo

10.  Death on credit: The French Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Note: Alain Mabanckou is born in the Rep. of Congo (a Francophone State) in 1966.  He is professor of Francophone literature in UCLA.  He published “Broken Glass”, “Black Bazar”, letter to Jimmy (James Baldwin)”, and “Tomorrow I’ll be 20″…


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adonis49

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