Friday, March 14, 2008

A reading list for a trip to Senegal

With any luck, I will be visiting Senegal this summer, as a tourist.

I would like advice and recommendations for reading - novels, poems, non-fiction. Advice about anything, really. It all has to be in English. I have to start working on my French. I don't want to think about that. Ein, zwei, drei. No, no. Un, deux, trois. Quatre-vingt-un. Je voudrais le yassa de poulet.

Any help is much appreciated. Here's a start. Some I've read, some I ain't:

Books by Senegalese authors

Ousmane Sembène: The Black Docker, God's Bits of Wood, The Money Order, White Genesis, Xala, The Last of the Empire, Niiwam & Taaw
Cheik Kane: The Ambiguous Adventure
Mariama Bâ: So Long a Letter, Scarlet Song
Aminata Sow Fall: The Beggars' Strike
Birago Diop: Tales of Amadou Koumba
Ken Bugul: The Abandoned Baobab
Fatou Diome: The Belly of the Atlantic
Myriam Warner Vieyra: As the Sorceror Said, Juletane
Leopold Senghor: Poems

Books about Senegal by non-Senegalese authors

Mungo Park: Travels in the Interior of Africa
Mark Hudson: The Music in My Head
Reginald McKnight: I Get on the Bus, Moustapha's Eclipse, He Sleeps
Michael Palin: Sahara
Peter Biddlecombe: French Lessons in Africa
Akahiro Yamamura: Senegal
Jean Baptiste Henri Savigny and Alexander Corréaud: Narrative of a Voyage to Senegal in 1816
Peter Matthiessen: African Silences
Susan Lowerre: Under the Neem Tree

That one's a little short (but growing - many thanks).

A complaint directed at publishers, who are complicating my work. A recent book by Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Meets the Sun: A Memoir of Africa, looks pretty interesting. It's entirely about Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is not Africa. Anyone interested in reading African memoirs knows this. Sales will not suffer if you put the word "Zimbabwe" in the title.

I'll post this in some permanent spot and update as needed.


  1. The film Hyènes!!! Based on the Durrenmatt (Swiss writer) play The Visit of the Old Lady and wonderfully re-envisioned by the Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop. The film takes places in a small Senegalese village.

    I will second the Mariama Ba and add one of my favorite writers Myriam Warner Vieyra. Her book Juletane (which is available in English) is one I read again and again.

    Also, I'm incredibly jealous. What a wonderful trip.

  2. I can't help you with recommendations, but I am certainly interested in your lists! I've read Mariama Ba and found her quite interesting. I've got Mungo Park on my shelves, but haven't gotten to it yet. Enjoy that trip -- it sounds fabulous!

  3. Thanks for the suggestions. The Diop movie is Netflixed (Netflicked?), the Warner Vieyra novels are duly noted, and on their way.

    The list will be updated as needed, and perhaps at some point annotated.

    DW, thanks. Park's book is a treat. I crossed his path in Timbuktu, which he reached on his tragic second trip to West Africa. A guide pointed out the plaque on the house he'd stayed in.

  4. A book about Africa (albeit west Africa) that's on my "to read" list is "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux. What I've read of his travel writing has always been entertaining and enlightening. This book came out in 2003 and is about an overland trip he took down the western side of Africa.

  5. Theroux - that's a good idea. I didn't think of him. He's been everywhere.

  6. Don't have any author to add, but check out these film makers: Ousmane Sembene & Moussa Sene Absa.

  7. Not about Africa, but about travel: Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines.

    Definitely about Africa, and much else that is of infinite and multivariate use: Mating, by Norman Rush. Here's the review in the NYT from 1991.

    It won the National Book Award in 1991, and for what it's worth, is a book of which I am exceedingly fond. I always thought it was a decent analogue to Jane Austen -- I remember feeling very gratified when I finally read a review of this book that mentioned that very thing. Anyway, this is one of my top 50 books ever -- enjoy.

  8. A Scottish friend's read-around the world bookclub chose God's Bits of Wood and very much liked it for Senegal. You can read their neighboring country suggestions on their blog.

  9. I read my way around the continent for a book called A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa. Your list for Senegal is pretty impressive. You probably already know that Reginald McKnight's Moustapha's Eclipse and He Sleeps are also set in Senegal, and there's a nice book of photos called Senegal by Akihiro Yamamura. You could also take a look at French Lessons in Africa by Peter Biddlecombe and African Silences by Peter Matthiessen, which are in part about Senegal. Have a great trip!

  10. Geoff, thanks for the valuable suggestions. I'll keep an eye out for your book as well.

  11. I second the vote for "Mating," which I also enjoyed.

    Have a great trip! I missed out on a trip with friends to visit a Senegalese friend years ago. They had a great time and particularly enjoyed a side trip to The Gambia.

  12. Norman Rush is on my "someday" list, but not for trip. "Mating" takes place in Botswana, so it will have to wait.

    I haven't decide if Gambia is on the agenda or not. It's a logical extension of the trip.

  13. Since you love lists, I thought I'd contribute this one. It was a result of the now suspended Zimbabwean book fair and calls itself "100 best African books of the 20th century." So it is wide-ranging, but still more sensible than most lists with no date limit.

    I couldn't get the link to insert properly, so click on my name for this link!