Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Sony Labou Tansi

Literature map of the world?

What makes books so powerful is that they can let you sample other cultures and experiences you’ll never get to have in your own life.

With that in mind, do you want to expand your reading world a bit?

Maybe you want to move away from just Harry Potter/The Da Vinci Code/The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and all those other books everyone else is reading on their morning commute?

Every country is represented by (arguably) the most famous or important book from that country.

Obviously, making those distinctions is going to lead to some disagreements.

For Russia, War and Peace has been chosen, but it could have easily been several of Dostoevsky’s works.

The UK has Pride and Prejudice, which is obviously a important book, but we’re sure some people will be saying it should have been Dickens or Shakespeare.

And let’s be honest, Spain should really be represented by Don Quixote, not Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s middlebrow bestseller Shadow of the Wind.

But what makes the map really cool, is when it gets to places like Africa, South America and Asia.

We all know the classics of Western Literature, but had you heard of I Am a Taxi by Deborah Ellis, or Sony Labou Tansi’s “The Antipeople”?

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Note: I reviewed extensively many books from authors of many countries and languages and translated the reviews in English. Select the category “Book Review” in my blog

Part 2. An excursion with French-speaking African authors

(Francophone authors)

Alain Mabanckou, an author from the Congo Brazzaville or (Rep. of Congo), published “Writers and birds of migration”.  Alain described his meeting with many African Francophone authors.  In the previous I related the meetings with Ahmadou Kourouna (Ivory Coast) and Sony Labou Tansi (Congo Brazzaville or Rep.of Congo).

Here are another set of samples of the stories:

On Sami Tchak from Togo. “I discuss literature mostly with Sami Tchak from Togo. Sami is not prone to any consensus and I can always count on Sami to let me discover unknown authors. We are in constant connection and we spend time discussing the many dimensions of the imaginary: Bringing in fresh air.

Sami would grab any book left on a bench in any public park, read it all, for the entire day, sitting on the bench: Tchak reads everything!

Sami published “Place des fetes” (Fiesta square, 2001), a iconoclastic work of contemporary Sub-Sahara literature. Sami says: “A writer is above all a reader. We have too many half-cooked literate intellectuals

Tchak has spent long periods in Latin America and evoked themes of sexuality, prostitution…themes not usually covered in African literatures.  For example, Sami’s book “The Malian Al Capone” is about little people, tormented in their customs and traditions, these mobile Africans, mobile in their heart, faith, lightness of being, happiness, exaggeration, clownish behaviors…How colonial Europe is coming to term in viewing Africa and Africans, this resisting Black continent, this ancient breath of traditional waves.

Time for Europe to comprehend this “Black Soul” through a trip to the “heart of darkness”, undertaken by the main character, a magazine white reporter, Rene. Rene’s weight of errance and the stubbornness for an illicit desire.

Tchak make it his responsibility to first visit the locations of his novel, and study the social structure so to present slices of the society.  Tchak is subjugated by the novels “The man without qualities” by Robert Musil (Austria), “Three sad tigers”, and “Father Tranquille”

On Laye Camara (1928-80) from Guinea. Laye was sent to exile by dictator Sekou Toure. The first book of Camara “The Black kid” was published in 1953 and became an instant cult book, and Laye was considered the most independent minded author, and perpetually felt the “freshest” to all African generations.

It is an “initiating book”, and later, many African authors wrote their versions of the Black kid in recounting their early years. For example,  “Climbie” by Bernard Dadie, “Kocumbo, the black student” by Ake Loba, and “Ambiguous adventure” by Cheikh Hamidou Kane.  The contemporary African authors who emulated the Black kid are: “All this blue, Ma” by Gaston Paul Effa.

The preface of the Black kid contained a poem “To my mother” that is memorized and recited by almost all school children, a vibrant homage to African women, and sang by African musicians.

Laye said: “I was thinking of myself, and as I wrote the book, I realized that I was painting a portion of my High-Guinea birthplace.”  There is a serenity in Laye as he considers the Future of Africa, the book decodes a society, we enter the universe of the humble person, culture of courtesy, exchange, and dignity: Feeling happy to be African, and celebrating life… 

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).

Like Sony Labou Tansi (Cameroun) “La vie et demi” (The life and a half), Arenas Reinaldo (Cuba): Trois tristes tigres (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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