It’s pretty normal for challenges to be challenging, right? If you were 100% sure to find the book you expected when taking a reading challenge, that would soon be a bore, right? Global Voices Challenge defied me (at least, I took it personally) to try a book from a country I never read anything about, in honor of UNESCO World Book Day today. I entrusted my fate to chance, and chance gave me a book from Togo. A challenging book I won’t forget anytime soon, dealing with mass murder and its consequences.
“Solo d’un Revenant”: I need explain the title because language and words are very important in this book. I love the way Kossi Efoui uses French in a poetic way. He’s a playwright and a theater director, and you can see how circumspect he is with gestures and words. It sounds “African” to my ears, because of the rhythm, the drumming of repetitions, the way worlds come again and again with an added layer every time, like the “turn of screw”. In Henry James the turn of screw was for fear and horror, and in this book it’s about the same, except that facts behind the story are only too real.
“Revenant” has a double entendre: it’s a returnee, a man who comes back to South Gloria, his hometown after ten years being a refugee in the peacekeeping zone of North Gloria. His hometown, on the wrong side of the checkpoint, has witnessed civil war and massacre. We never know where this fictitious town is, but strong allusions to the Tutsi genocide could put it in Rwanda, but there were so many other conflicts in this continent. But “Revenant” is also a ghost, returning from death. Actually we can’t be sure whether the narrator is alive, but like the ghost he might be, he has come back to understand how his friend Mozaya died and to take revenge on another friend, Asafo Johnson, who probably was an accomplice in the genocide (of this we’re not sure either). He comes back alone, and lonely, and people around him are shady and tragic: Maïs (Corn in English), the child-soldier who can answer to any need and even teach you how to use a gun, Xhosa-Anna, a woman who wears a wedding gown, Marlene, an aid worker whose NGO has left the country and left her behind. The government constantly celebrates peace and reconciliation, but people are still traumatized by the war and can’t forget or forgive. Some hire private investigators to find lost ones and the same who also turn into hired killers when the customer prefers revenge. Even trials can’t offer justice, as witnesses retract or disappear, and judges can be bought.
Throughout the novel, the “Revenant” feels as if he were on a boat leaving the bank and at the same time standing on the shore looking at the departing boat. The narrator wants to understand why one friend died, one supported the massacre and he survived, but there is no “why” offered. This book is very dark and moving at the same time. Hope is nearly absent and even children are no longer innocent and must be distrusted.
But at the same time, the language is so beautiful and innovative that you really wish to go on reading and reading… I wish I could translate some to English, but with the double entendre and allusions and rhythm, that would be a very challenging exercise. I found an interesting interview of Efoui on the internet about the language, which I hope to comment here in a few days.