As part of the Africa Reading Challenge, I’ve pledged to read more books by African authors writing in French. This is an area of literature that I know very little about, even though I read authors from across the continent in English.
The first book I picked up was Très bonnes nouvelles du Bénin by Jacques Dalodé, a short story collection set in Benin. The 13 stories oscillate back and forth between the same few places (PK7 neighbourhood in the outskirts of Cotonou, the village of Boulagon), so that I felt like I was being introduced to a community, sharing in its gossip, its drama, and its daily hustles.
Dalodé’s prose flows effortlessly, often drawing the goof out of tragedy, as with the story inspired by forced public confessions of « witches » during the communist era, where a woman is asked prove her loyalty to a secret society by killing her son who has left Bénin to study in Paris. The plot touches on a serious issue but there is always an element of irony seeping through. In this case, I couldn’t hold back a chuckle when the mother, who has magically travelled to her son’s room to carry out her evil deed, notices disapprovingly that he has let his hair grow into dreadlocks.
The playfulness starts right from the title, which is a play on words in French : nouvelle means both a piece of news and a short story so Très bonnes nouvelles du Bénin could be translated as « Very good news from Bénin » or « Very good short stories from Bénin ». As you can imagine, it is not all good news, especially for the paranoid customs officer M. Sebolela who lives in constant fear of robbery.
The collection so enjoyable that I gobbled it all up in a weekend. Having planned to visit Bénin this year probably added to the excitement!
Ready to read ?
Jacques Dalodé, Très bonnes nouvelles du Bénin, Gallimard, Paris, 2011, 240 p.
You can order the book (print and ebook) and read excerpts here.
Don’t forget to check if your local library has it in stock !
About the author
Jacques Dalodé was born in Cotonou (Bénin) in 1948 and trained as an engineer at the prestigious « Ecole des Mines » in Paris. He came to writing later in life after a career in the oil industry that took him from Benin to France and Norway. Très bonne nouvelles du Bénin is his first published work.