The untouched outrage of Senegalese novelist Aminata Sow Fall
French-speaking novelists continues, at age 77, scrutinising her society by exposing the abuses of those in power while highlighting poors survival strategies.

MINING&BUSINESS  MARS AVRIL 2019

 One of the greatest

 This declaration was made to her by Alain Mabanckou during the inaugural lecture at the Collège de France in March 2016. Alain Mabanckou considers her to be “the greatest African novelist”. But Aminata Sow Fall is far from gauging the impact she has left on generations of African novelists . Her latest book, L’Empire du mensonge, published in 2018, depicts the lives of three families from poor neighbourhoods and whose fate radically changes due to flooding. Le Revenant, her first novel nearly missed being published. Published in 1979, La Grève des battus, her first novel, ushered her into literary salons. Aminata Sow Fall turned the “balance of force” between the poors and the riches upside down. Once again, the discourse starts from an internal revolt and calls into question the human condition.

 Her talent was recognised by her peers, eventually being awarded the prestigious black African Grand Prix in 1980. Her works were translated in many languages, including in Mandarin and turned into a movie by Malian filmmaker Cheick Oumar Sissoko. “Poverty is not a crime” She is a pioneer. She is a “vital” novelist, according to Mame-Fatou Niang, professor of French and Francophone literature at Carnegie- Mellon University at Pittsburgh, in the United States. “She is one of the scarcest African novelists to be part of the French literature but of the Francophone literature in many American universities,” she noted. In a career spanning 45 years, this Senegalese woman born in a family of notables in Saint-Louis, published about ten novels and books which have become classics. 

Her writing style is uncompromising. Through her caustic pen, Aminata Sow Fall lambasted those in power, calling them the “political and financial bourgeoisie” hungry for power and social mobility and guilty of undermining the hopes from decolonisation. In the same vein, she offered her voice to those left out of development. “Poverty is not a crime”, she underscored, seated in the cosy living-room of her villa The former professor of literature swears she never dreamed of a career in literature. Writing dawned to her from an emergency, at age 32. In 1973, following seven years of education at La Sorbonne university, she returned to Senegal. But the joy of her homecoming was quickly replaced by disgust. “The bourgeoisie that took over after independence turned our values upside down”. 

The riches displayed their wealth and despised those who didn’t have any. If you were poor, you were worth nothing”, she remembers. Her refusal to be defined as a feminist Aminata Sow Fall prefers the bourgeois decency in which she was raised more than the new riches. Her father, a Treasurer General of the Bank of France during colonial time in Senegal, passed away when Aminata was 8. Her mother, being the first wife, became the head of the family. “I grew up in a happy and united family. My mother raised us in kindness without frustrating us.

 Her moral values were strong enough to be our compass.” This was the “cocoon” in which Aminata  Sow Fall blossomed. In a Senegal still under colonial administration and very conservative, the novelist broke some clichés as she escaped domestic chores to better focus on her reading. “Nobody found it strange that I was reading so much,” she noted. The success of the novelist coincided with the rise of other African female novelists on the Francophone literature scene such as Mariana Bâ, the author of Une si longue lettre, who passed away in 1981. But Aminata Sow Fall focused on themes other than excision or polygamy, which were subjects expected of her by the critique. 

She refused to be defined as a feminist. “Instead of asking women to shout: I am equal to man”, it would be important to teach them how to organise their lives, take care of their children and acquire skills. Women should be given the means to defend themselves,” she stated. Still outraged she expressed the same mistrust against Negritude. Such an attitude in the land of Léopold Sédar Senghor baffles and she laughs about it. “In Sine Saloum [the region Senghor originated from], people don’t need to reclaim their Negritude because they carry it in themselves. Senghor was rather talking to racist philosophers for whom Africa has no civilisation, she justifies herself. 

The eldest daughter of Senegalese literature leads a discreet life in Dakar. She seldom goes out, as if she were shielding herself from the ambient social violence. In her opinion, the economic emergence for all, which was promised by various successive leaders, did not bridge the gap between the poors and the riches. On the contrary, this gap is widening. Aminata Sow Fall, at 77, is still outraged. 

Source: Le Monde - Coumba Kane

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