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April 2007

African Voices

This month we celebrate the PEN World Voices Festival by showcasing the rich diversity of African writing. In two takes on colonialism, Congo's Alain Mabanckou's "Blue White Red" flags the lasting influence of France on its former subjects, while Abdulrazak Gurnah's Desertion maps British power in Zanzibar. Algerian Yasmina Khadra evokes the end of summer and the dashing of dreams in "Absence." In dispatches from the extremes of teenage life in Ivory Coast, Marguerite Abouet's graphic novel Aya draws us into the conventional life of a carefree adolescent girl, while Amadou Kourouma's exuberantly profane teen soldier explains why "Allah Is Not Obliged." Poet Amina Saïd returns to her native Tunisia in "I Introduce Myself to the World," and Angola's Ondjaki interrupts a doctor's Sunday reverie in "Dragonfly." 

Song
I saw a shop went in and bought something I had forgotten I already had. I stood in the shop and there was nothing else I could remember that I needed. But what do I do with two of them except wait for…
Translated from Dutch
Dragonfly
By Ondjaki
for Dr. Carvalhoif from these stones one announced what creates silence: here, close by, [ . . . ] this would open, like a wound you would have to plunge into–Paul Celan, “The Power of Light”A…
Translated from Portuguese by Lisa Grayson
Desertion
By Abdulrazak Gurnah
He forced himself to take shallow breaths, even though his instinct was to swallow huge heaving gulps to relieve the sense of suffocation he felt in the crowds and the alleyways.
In the Shade of the Almond Tree
By Évelyne Trouillot
Author's Note: Two major obstacles to happiness remain constant throughout the history of Haitian society: social and economic injustice, and totalitarian tendencies. Poverty can be as cruel as dictatorship…
Translated from French by Paul Curtis Daw
Absence
By Yasmina Khadra
Summer’s reaching its end.Noise becomes intermittent; you no longer hear the throb of car engines, or children having fun. The village shrinks back inside its shell: the time for hibernation is…
Translated from French by Lulu Norman
from That Awful Mess on the via Merulana
By Carlo Emilio Gadda
When they reached Via Merulana: the crowd. Outside the entrance, the black of the crowd, with its wreath of bicycle wheels. “Make way there. Police.” Everybody stood aside. The door was closed.…
Translated from Italian by William Weaver
Quiet
Quiet, you say.      I hardly hear you. You're already that far.      Don't leave me behind like this. I stop talking.      Immediately…
Translated from Dutch
I Introduce Myself to the World
In poetry, one only inhabits the place one is leaving. -René Char The following poem was composed during a stay in Tunisia, the country of my birth, in July, my birth month: “here”…
Translated from French
Allah Is Not Obliged
By Ahmadou Kourouma
Sit down and listen. And write everything down.
Translated from French by Frank Wynne
Blue, White, Red
By Alain Mabanckou
At the beginning, there was the name.A humdrum name.A two-syllable name: Moki .  . .At the beginning, there was that name.Moki is standing in front of me. I see him again. He's talking to me.…
Translated from French by Alison Dundy
Encounter
By Goli Taraghi
I have a feeling that it is a mistake to go to the party at Mr. M.'s, especially under the circumstances.
Translated from Persian by Faridoun Farrokh
Learn
Waiting in the Offing
By Akiko Itoyama
“Itoyama’s sharp eye and sly wit set her apart from other Japanese women writers. Her writing style is intellectually controlled, and often glows with wisdom.”–Kenzaburo Oe“My…
Translated from Japanese by Charles De Wolf
Pallida Turba
By Vera Kobets
Translator’s Note: Three great waves of political cataclysm surged over a city already accustomed to periodic inundation by the black waters of the river Neva: the October Revolution, the purges…
Translated from Russian by James Russell