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Every Sunday in the summer, World Africa asks a writer from the continent which works have made the greatest impression on him.
This week, the question is posed to author Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse. 2021 winner of the Five Continents of La Francophonie Award for All your kids scatteredthe French-Rwandan author will publish his second novel, comforted August 17, 2022 (ed. Otherwise).
A soldier’s embrace, by Nadine Gordimer
For his short story art and observation. I like Nadine Gordimer’s way of telling South Africa from her characters’ personal lives. There are especially two love stories between a white man and a black woman, the lover of the cities and the lover of the countryside in a way. We see how South African society is gradually destroying them. And there is this way of describing “interracial” conditions in this country, without clichés, with a great observational finesse and also without concessions. It tells what is happening on the side of the privileged class of whites, but beyond South Africa, it sends us back to a universal reflection on the relationship between the dominant and the dominated. To me, Nadine Gordimer is not well enough known in the French-speaking world. She is presented a bit as if she had received the Nobel Prize primarily because she was a white militant, whereas her work as a writer is remarkable. For me, who got into literature through the short story, it interested and comforted me especially to see this literary genre taken to its climax under his pen.
Love, anger and madness, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet
For its content and its editorial destiny. This book is a trilogy whose first part, Love, depicts the Haitian aristocracy in the interwar period. The novelist depicts a toxic relationship between three sisters in a decadent world within the ruling class in Haiti, which I would describe as a bit tacky. The result is exciting. The other interesting aspect of this book is that it is the text of a woman whose remarks aroused the anger of the head of state at the time, François Duvalier. Is it for his critique of the powerful? Either way, the fate of this magnificent book is striking: for fear of retaliation, the author’s husband bought up and destroyed all the copies distributed in Haiti. Parents had already been victims of the dictator, the family wanted to avoid being left behind again. Marie Vieux-Chauvet will nonetheless be pushed into exile, and her book, whose French holdings were purchased by her children from Gallimard editions, will only be sold discreetly. Until the re-release of Zulma in 2015.
Life without make-up, by Maryse Conde
For his honesty and his courage. I am reading Life without make-up by Maryse Condé when I started writing seriously, about ten years ago. It is both the story of a woman from Guadeloupe who seeks to find herself by going to Africa, and at the same time her journey as a woman who has romantic encounters, gives birth to children, must meet the needs of her family and, after all, try to realize herself even as a writer. Maryse Condé tells what it means in terms of pain and sacrifice. This book confirmed to me that getting into literature was a path filled with pitfalls; he made me realize that it takes courage because writing leads to confrontation with misunderstanding, yes humiliation. It is not easy, and it is even less so when you are a woman and you come from the literary periphery, from other worlds or languages than those that are in the majority. We are not expected. To me, Maryse Condé had the voice of the aunt who says “Come, sit down, I must tell you where I went.” His story is harsh, but imbued with an openness that opens the eye.
Afterlife and other novels by Abdulrazak Gurnah
For Swahili culture. I had read and appreciated several books by the Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah before winning the Nobel Prize, as part of a book club I had set up in Bordeaux. I remember my joy at discovering a voice that was missing in my world because it spoke of East Africa at the time of German colonization – which Rwanda also suffered. Gurnah also brings me a dive into the Swahili world and culture that I know certain words about because they nurture my mother tongue, Kinyarwanda. IN Afterlife (published in France in 2023), we have the pleasure of finding the character of an earlier novel, Sky (Denoël), a man who joined the corps of askaristhe soldiers natives of the German colonial empire. Through him we evoke these wars, which were played out between African peoples in the name of Western issues. Gurnah tells what this great story does to the intimate history of men, from the XIXe century to the 1970s and 1980s, in the world of Swahili merchants. It is extremely valuable that such a universe is embodied in fiction.