A Trio of Stories from Francophone Africa

When I was perusing the local county’s library’s online collection from the comfort of my home (it is basically winter in Minnesota, after all), the book Fools, Thieves, and Other Dreamers: Stories from Francophone Africa caught my eye. I read it, and I’m so glad I did. Upon opening the first pages, I learned the book was a project overseen by the French Embassy and the Zimbabwe International Book Fair that wanted to focus on Francophone literature and make it accessible to Anglophone readers and writers. The University of Zimbabwe had an important role in the translation of these stories.  With a story each from Seydi Sow, Florent Couao-Zotti, and Abdourahman Ali Waberi, these are compelling writings that highlight problems individuals and societies face. This is definitely a read for those who enjoy stories that make you think but don’t have a ton of time to read.

The first story, From the Depths of a Well, is written by Senegalese author Seydi Sow. The story presents us with the problem right from the beginning: several people are trapped in a well and have to figure out how to save themselves. Each person represents different facets of society: two governmental officials, a judge, and a civilian. There’s a chance for each one to present a case as to why they should be the first one out who could bring back help to rescue the others. Deeply philosophical in nature, this is really a story of society’s ills and individual’s distrust of others embodied by each of the characters. They are so well-crafted, you wonder how the immediate problem of getting out of the well will be solved and are made to think of how this is a reflection of the state of the world today. This was my favorite of the trio.

The second story, Small Hells on Street Corners, by Beninese author and teacher Florent Couao-Zotti, also starts strong; this time with an action-packed scene. Where Sow’s story is adeptly and firmly philosophical and civilian-vs-The Man, Couao-Zotti’s story is clearly a tale of economics, poverty, and greed – especially its effects on kids. Fear is prevalent in the story, palpable and the the driving force of the unnamed boy-thief. The hardest part of reading this was the change in viewpoint. It took me a while to really get the hang of it. Police are trying to figure out who the boy-thief is and seek to catch him while the boy-thief seeks to get away. He undergoes some pretty horrific things due to the corruption and greed of the city. From what I gather, there is also an interrogation occurring – whether of the boy-thief or not is a little unclear.

Finally, The Fool’s Gallery by Djibouti’s Abdourahman Ali Waberi. Here is an author who gorgeously describes every detail so we are fully entrenched in the same surroundings as the characters. The story here focuses on addiction and its harrowing effects on not only the addicted but on their loved ones as well. His descriptions of not only the setting, but of people, motives, and how he characterizes different types of addicts is really rather stunning. It’s clear he has a poet’s heart.

Three incredibly different stories from different authors and countries tied together first by language, second by continent, and third by holding no punches. We are made to think, feel, and be illuminated by these stories. Read it in a day or read each story with several days in between reading to really give you time to ponder them. It’s often used at the University of Zimbabwe as part of the curriculum – and that’s a class I’d love to sit in. I’ve got at least one full-length novel in my library pile by Wari. It’d be interesting to see what other works these authors have to offer.