- Afrique sur Seine: une nouvelle génération de romanciers africains à Paris
Odile Cazenave's book seeks to demonstrate a contrast between those African writers who write in France and those who work from Africa. For Cazenave, "Afro-Parisian" writers are tuned into the present age of globalization and "world literature," whereas their African colleagues are locked into the "obsolete and anachronistic" (178) literature of engagement and nationalism (251). "Afro-Parisians," she clams, "distance themselves" from Africa, "reject Africa, and Africans" (281)! Words such as "rejection," "refusal," and "denial" abound in her treatment of the "mythical Africanity."
Chapter one is an analytical summary of the different "Parisian" novels. The second chapter "demonstrates" their "hybridity," "postcoloniality," and "world-literarity." The third chapter examines the readers of these "new writings." Cazenave's answer is surprising: French readers appreciate these "new writings" better for two reasons: first, because they focus on Paris, while Africa serves as a mere background or is simply absent; and second, because the "subversion" of the French language/culture makes it hard for "continental Africans" to relate, whereas the French reader enjoys this new discourse within a familiar setting (155–56). The last chapter aims to elucidate her theory: the "birth of a new literature," whose characteristics, according to Cazenave, are "fragmentation" of the story line, subversion, "Parisianism," an individual and antihero protagonist, and the "rejection of Africa" by these writers, who share the fact of being born in the 1980s (133).
Reading Cazenave's 314–page book is unfortunately not as useful as it could be. She ultimately brings nothing new to the subject. One who has read Ngandu or Sony Labou Tansi, for example, knows about fragmentation and subversion. Moreover, Cazenave's analysis leaves much to be desired. For example, Moïse in African Gigolo offers a fantastic intertext with the Bible that beautifully connotes a "return to the mother land," the total opposite of Odile's rejection theory. The "age factor" that pits generations against one another is inaccurate; most of her own main writers are of a much earlier generation (Beyala, 1958; Njami, 1960; Biyaoula, 1952; Monenembo, 1947). Furthermore, her very approach is itself flawed. In assuming that these writers do not want to write about Africa, she finds herself faced with their mixing of "European" stories with "African" stories. She mistakes the characters' point of view [End Page 237] for those of the authors. In her "demonstration" in chapter two, she ends up working mainly on Beyala's novels (here, too, she is confronted with "African" stories like La petite fille du réverbère or Les honneurs perdus). Cazenave's desire to make up an anti-African "movement" for "Afro-Parisian" writers leads her to the following overstatements: the "African novel's literary canon must be reexamined" (297) and "African literature has been replaced by the term [sic] Francophone literature" (217)! Or, worse, African writers and critics are "jealous of Beyala's spectacular success" (230).
Cazenave's book has one merit: it provides a rich list of books written by Africans from France in the last fifteen years. While beginners in the field will find these lists useful, they should exercise caution after the end of the first chapter. This work seems to have been published hastily. The plethora of language errors and inconsistencies in formatting as well as internal contradictions make it read like a first draft. Even the title is inconsistent: within the book itself she refers to the Nouvelle Afrique sur Seine. Apropos of the title, one is amazed that Cazenave never mentioned Gisèle Pineau's Caraïbe sur Seine (1990), which also deals with the subject of exile and associated themes, probably because such a reference might contradict Cazenave's theory.