To not miss any African news, subscribe to the World Africa newsletter from this link. Every Saturday at 6 a.m., find a week of news and debates covered by the editorial staff of Le Monde Afrique.
Franco-Rwandan writer Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse in September 2019 in Mabosque, southern France. JOEL SAGET / AFP
Every Sunday in the summer, Le Monde Afrique asks a writer from the continent which works have marked him the most.
This week, the question is put to the writer Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse. Winner of the 2021 Prize of the Five Continents of La Francophonie for All your scattered children, the Franco-Rwandan author will publish her second novel, Consolée on August 17, 2022 (ed. Otherwise).
A Soldier’s Embrace by Nadine Gordimer
For his art of the short story and observation. I like Nadine Gordimer’s way of telling South Africa from the personal lives of her characters. There are notably 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, gradually, South African society is destroying them. And there is this way of describing “interracial” relations in this country, without clichés, with a great finesse of observation and without concession either. 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 dominant and dominated. For me, Nadine Gordimer is not well enough known in the French-speaking world. She is presented a little as if she had received the Nobel Prize above all because she was a white militant, whereas her work as a writer is remarkable. For me, who entered literature through the short story, it particularly interested and comforted me to see this literary genre taken to its peak under his pen.
Love, Anger and Madness, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet
For its content and its editorial destiny. This book is a trilogy, the first part of which, Amour, depicts the Haitian aristocracy of the interwar period. The novelist depicts a toxic relationship between three sisters in a decadent world, within the Haitian ruling class that I would describe as a bit sticky. 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 criticism of the powerful? Be that as it may, the fate of this magnificent book is striking: for fear of reprisals, 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 bereaved again. Marie Vieux-Chauvet will nevertheless be pushed into exile and her book, the French stock of which has been bought by her children from Gallimard editions, will only be sold discreetly. Until its reissue by Zulma in 2015.
Life Without Makeup, by Maryse Condé
For his frankness and his courage. I read La Vie sans fards by Maryse Condé when I started to write seriously, about ten years ago. It is both the story of a Guadeloupean woman 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 his family and despite everything tries to realize himself as a writer. Maryse Condé recounts what it means in terms of pain and sacrifice. This book confirmed to me that getting into literature was a path strewn with pitfalls; he made me lucid about the fact that it required courage, because writing leads to confronting incomprehension, even humiliation. It’s not easy and it’s even less so when you’re a woman and you come from the literary periphery, from other worlds or languages other than those that are in the majority. We are not expected. For me, Maryse Condé had the voice of the auntie who said “Come, sit down, I’ll tell you where I went. His story is harsh, but imbued with a frankness that opens the eye.
Afterlives and the other novels of Abdulrazak Gurnah
For Swahili culture. I had read and appreciated several books by the Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah before he won the Nobel Prize, as part of a book club that I had set up in Bordeaux. I remember my pleasure in discovering a voice that was missing in my universe, 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 of which I know certain words, because they nourish my mother tongue, Kinyarwanda. In Afterlives (to be published in France in 2023), we have the pleasure of rediscovering the character of a previous novel, Paradis (Denoël), a man who joined the body of the askaris, the 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 History does to the intimate history of people, from the 19th century to the years 1970-1980, in the world of Swahili merchants. It is extremely precious that such a universe is embodied in fiction.
Read also: “Four books that marked me”… by the Chadian writer Nétonon Noël Ndjékéry