restricted access As the Crow Flies (review)
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Tadjo, Véronique. As the Crow Flies. Trans. Wangui wa Goro. Oxford, U.K.: Heinemann Publishers, 2001. Paper. 106 pp.

A novelist and poet, Véroique Tadjo was born in Paris and reared in the Ivory Coast when it was taking its own first steps toward independence from France. That her newest work, As the Crow Flies, powerfully crosses borders of both genre and geography should therefore come as little surprise. Neither a novel exactly nor simply a collection of unconnected verse and vignettes, As the Crow Flies is a coherent story nevertheless, pitched to the doleful timbre of a tragic romance. Although Tadjo gives no names to the shadowy personae animating this lush, lyrical work, or to their precise location in the world, the sense that the anonymous poet-narrator, a woman, has had to make the difficult decision to pursue her lover to a strange, unwelcoming landscape full of loss and loneliness seems eminently trustworthy. A blues might be the best description of this passionate writing rendered in a hundred improvisatory sections.

Consistent with its organization of serial stops and perspective changes (ninety-two lyrical cycles number this 106-page book), this slim volume of Tadjo's feels like so many shards of the haunted life of its narrator-poet, pieced unpredictably together into a vague mosaic of forlorn prose and poetic regret. Yet, however discontinuous the range of parts comprising As the Crow Flies might actually feel, each one, at bottom, belongs to the whole like pieces to a belletristic puzzle. Tadjo's mosaic design is not so much the bewildering effect of persistent stylistic idiosyncrasies as it is the intended method of representing the soul-fracturing effects of living unloved by a no-good man and an unfeeling city abroad (unspecified and, therefore, any city, one is left to suppose) where the poet-narrator has run, leaving home, in desperate pursuit of him. What more appropriate means of portraying [End Page 669] the wordless devastation of her habitual losses (of home, of lover, of self to the prevailing age) and the insistent will to love or live anyway? In the end, subtle and sudden shifts in perspective, an unresolved formal tension between Tadjo's novelistic and poetic sensibilities, and a familiar but elusive narrator all reconcile around the ache, ambivalence, and metaphoricity of lovesickness.

"I want to write about him until I am purged of him" (91) is this work's truest confession. With the ear and earnestness of a songwriter, Tadjo writes about an impetuous lover (or, conceivably, a set of lovers) whom her narrator-poet can neither have nor hold because he is married with children, a working man who is "[r]ich in his life. Rich in his family" (1). Intractably, "[h]e has lodged himself in my heart," she laments, "and I do not know what to do with him [. . .] Who knows? It may rot with time," she hopes, "or flourish like a hibiscus in full bloom" (104). Despite the loveliness of this last simile, Tadjo's style, unlike her imagery, is anything but flowery. It conveys a simple elegance with hints of the narrative wistfulness perfected by Morrison. In a scene "that should have been a celebration" (31) of her drifting lover's uncertain return to her, Tadjo's poet-narrator sees clearly, and with reminiscently Morrisonian familiarity, that although time and the indifferent city (referred to only as "a big city of stone") have changed her beloved's clothes and improved his perfume, "I still recognized his scent the way you remember having dreamed, the morning after a long night of sleep" (32, emphasis added). Vividly, the lovesick poet-narrator remembers not only his perfume or what it feels like to know one has had a dream the night before, however, but "what his skin smelt like" too, and, still more discerningly (as only a lover ever notices), "the strength of his neck" (54).

Tadjo's strength, though, lies in her keen descriptive eye. Under her hand, "the rhythmic lilt in the tone of [the cheating man's] voice" (1) is the accompaniment to a "half smile that makes him look shy" (35). While this...