jueves, 28 de julio de 2016

La Grève des bàttu

La Grève des bàttu (Le Serpent à Plumes, 2013)
by Aminata Sow Fall
Senegal, 1979

Recipient of a coveted Michelin star on Amateur Reader's 2008 Senegalese reading list--food for thought that's still dang handy after all these years--Aminata Sow Fall's 1979 La Grève des bàttu ou Les Déchets humains [The Beggars' Strike, or, The Dregs of Society] has singlehandedly doubled my exposure to Senegalese novels dedicated to workers' strikes.  In this case, the strike at the center of the action takes place when the diligent but increasingly guilt-ridden Kéba Dabo is tasked by his amoral boss Mour Ndiaye with ridding their unnamed Ville [City] of the beggars that are plaguing its streets.  The goal?  To permit the movers and shakers of post-independence Senegal to profit off the country's nascent tourism industry free from the visual vexations of poverty.  The only problem with this panhandler removal plan is that Kéba Dabo does such a good job of removing the unsightly beggars from their usual haunts that the "encombrements humains" ["human traffic jams"] (11) decide to go on strike outside the city to protest their mistreatment at the hands of the authorities--an irony which eventually causes Mour Ndiaye an embarrassing conflict of interest since the would-be Vice President needs the beggars to return to the city for just a few hours one day so he can treat them to a charitable feast mandated by the marabout he relies upon for spiritual guidance!  While far from the most exciting novel I've ever read, the leisurely La Grève des bàttu actually does a pretty decent job at blending realism and satire, social commentary and comedy.  I liked for, example, the edgy scene in which the abject beggars, previously described as being the bearers of "têtes moutonneuses" ["fleecy heads"] and limbs disfigured by leprosy and scabies (25), pontificate on how it's self interest and not compassion that drives the charity of the well to do; giving alms to the poor is a way to ward off "sorciers anthropophages" ["cannibalistic witch doctors"] and bad luck rather than a means to eliminate hunger among the indigent (72).  On a related note, I also liked the just slightly less edgy scene in which one beggar jokes with a counterpart that the latter's blindness is no excuse for not practicing a trade:  "Mais, ton métier, tu l'exerces !  Tu es mendiant !" ["But you have a profession!  You're a beggar!"] (110).

Aminata Sow Fall

10 comentarios:

  1. Insightful and well written commentary as always.


    This sounds very good and very amusing.
    In the coming months and years I am determined to read at least a few works from African authors. Aminata Sow Fall seems like a good writer to include on my list.

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    1. Aminata Sow Fall actually packs a lot into this work--gender relations, the tension between tradition and modernity, the role of religion vs. secularism--that I didn't even get a chance to mention in my review. And although I have at least three Senegalese novels I hope to get to before then, I'd be interested in reading something else by her someday.

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  2. While I can count on both hands the number of books I read from West Africa, I have enjoyed all of them. I you and Tom both like this one, I should add it to my list.

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    1. I suspect that Tom appreciated this novel a little bit more than I did, James, but there's quite a lot to it as I mentioned to Brian above. I, unfortunately, am not yet very up to speed as far as West African literature is concerned; however, I hope to address that by reading at least two more books from that part of the continent (Guinea and another one from Senegal) before 2016 is out. Baby steps, baby steps.

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  3. Now you're ready to go to Senegal. This novel gets the national character as well or better than Sembene.

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    1. I like Sembene better so far although I'm intrigued by this "national character" comment business of yours. By the way, please feel free to weigh in if you have any recent film or music tips for me to help advance my Senegalese education. That'd no doubt make me even more ready to go to Senegal!

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    2. Oh, Sembene is the greater artist.

      The 2008 documentary about Youssou N'Dour, I Bring You My Love, is hugely instructive.

      I can recommend tons of music if you're interested, only about a third of it involving N'Dour, who is a giant.

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    3. I would love some music recommendations if you have the time. In the meantime, thanks for the tip on the N'Dour doc. Hope to get to Sembene's Xala before the year's out, by the way.

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  4. Potted Senegalese music history:

    The Afro-Latin fusion as represented by Orchestra Baobab. Start with the 21st century reunion albums - "Specialist in All Styles" and "Made in Dakar" - then go back to the old stuff, collected on "N'Wolof" and other albums. Or the middle stuff, like "Pirate's Choice," or anything.

    A bunch of Dakar punks said enough with lyrics in Spanish and Cuban drums. Youssou N'Dour and Etoile de Dakar changed everything with. "The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour" is a single-disc compilation of the period and there is a superb two-disc comp on Stern's. For single songs, try "Absa Gueye" and "Thiapathioly."

    A huge number of great musicians followed. If I had to pick the single greatest Senegalese pop song, it might be "Boubou N'Gary" by Etoile 2000, sung by one of N'Dour's rivals.

    N'DOur has gone on to be the biggest African star, his recorded music embodying an often frustrating struggle between Europe and Senegal, music recorded for the French festival market and music recorded for Dakar. But he has done wonderful things in both modes. An exception to all of this is the 2004 "Egypt," an unusual work of great beauty and meaning.

    The usual trends kicked in. Keyboards and drum machines replaced full bands. Rap got huge. Try a compilation called "Streets of Dakar: Generation Boul Falé" for the hits of the 1990s, "African Underground Vol 1: Hip-Hop Senegal" for the hiphop.

    The Afro-Latin recordings of the 1970s and 1980s, and the post-N'Dour mbalax, seem like endless places to explore. So much great music.

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    1. Thanks so much for all these great tips, Tom--they should keep me busy for a while and provide a fine change of pace for the Sembène films I hope to watch before long. Anything having to do with the Senegalese music scene is basically entirely unknown to me, so this is all immensely helpful. You the man and etc.!

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