Monday, July 7, 2008

Senegalese bookstores

Something easy to start the week's tour. Here we are inside Clairafrique in downtown Dakar (there's another by Cheikh Diop University):

What's here, on the blurry shelves (I was trying to be polite with the flash). Montesquieu, Yourcenar, Bahktin, Sony Labou Tansi. Everything is in French, except for a few childrens' books, speaking of which, see right. A nice French bookstore, state of the art, in a country with a 40% literacy rate.

A real treat: Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Sénégal. NEAS is a Dakar-based publisher - lots of schoolbooks, math books, and French grammars, but also novels, lots of novels, by West African writers. They said they have a website now, but heck if I can find it. Let's go inside.

We're looking into the NEAS bookstore/warehouse. The photos are of celebrated Senegalese novelists, Aminata Sow Fall (left), author of the ingenious The Beggars' Strike, and Mariama Ba (right), author of the bestselling novel in West African history, So Long a Letter.

The latter, in its Wolof translation.

For the French-language reader (not me), this entirely unprepossessing space is a treasure trove, full of novels available almost nowhere else.

Almost none of the novels published by NEAS have been translated into English. Think of similar shelves in similar stores in Indonesia, Peru, Romania. A reminder to be humble about pronouncements about what literature is and is not, what writers are doing and not doing.


  1. What you say is too true. I wonder about the volumes of literature to which I have no access and of which I have no knowledge.

  2. If you would like to learn more about literature in other languages and cultures, the following sites may be of interest: and

  3. The Rochester Three Percent site is interesting. I can't figure out how to use the PEN site. Both are way more biz-oriented than I am. I just want to learn about interesting books. Three Percent does a pretty good job pointing to at least some of them; PEN has other concerns.

    Neither site was of any value in putting together my Senegalese reading list, I'm afraid. Not everyone finds that sort of exercise as valauable as I do.

  4. I think I may have to price plane tickets to Dakar this afternoon - that shop looks inciredible.
    Paris has a wonderful African bookshop that I visited last year with great, knowledgable staff that gave me lots of advice on writers I'd never heard of.
    But like you say, the depths of the literary ocean are way too deep to ever feel like you've made any progress in your diving.

  5. Presences Africaines, or somewhere else? Presences Africaines has done more to promote and support West African writers than anyone, I think. Their Latin Quarter store is shockingly tiny.

  6. That's the one, and you're right it is tiny when you think about it. My memory of it is that its huge - probably because I spend time going literally from book to book and twisting to look at bookshelves. But when I go back, my first feeling is - whoa too small.

    Tickets to Dakar from Geneva - 600 euros. That seems like a bargain. I'm keeping this one on a must-do list.

  7. That is a bargain, all things considered. Maybe I'll post my Young Africa Hand tips today.