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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 208-209

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Book Review

Les femmes dans le processus littéraire au Togo

Francophone Women Writers of Africa and the Caribbean

Les femmes dans le processus littéraire au Togo, ed. Ambroise Têko-Agbo and Simon Amegbleame. Bern: Peter Lang, 1999. vii + 236pp. ISBN 3-906763-85-4.

Francophone Women Writers of Africa and the Caribbean, by Renée Larrier. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2000. 156 pp. ISBN 0-8130-1742-4 cloth.

In recent years, a growing number of critical works have appeared on francophone African (and Caribbean) women's voices. The two works reviewed here confirm this interest.

Les femmes dans le processus littérairegathers the proceedings of a colloquium held at the University of Benin. It involves thirteen contributors (only one woman) and is thereby somewhat uneven. Although unusual in its focus, section one offers interesting insights on German colonial literature (or cinema) by women and their experiences of Togo. Simon Agbeko Amegbleame calls our attention to a very early (1864) text by a Togolese woman, yet he fails to discuss the issue of authorship and the context in which it had appeared: this testimony was selected for its ethnographic "authentic" quality by German anthropologist D. Westermann.

In the section on women as producers, Ayayi Togoata Apedo-Amah's article, "La cantata ou la femme en spectacle," explores how women have subverted a genre: initially played and sung by men for men, la cantata is now played by and for women. This genre/activity is no longer to the service of religion; instead, it serves as a channel for women to subvert patriarchal authority. The three other articles in this section examine two novels by women: Gad Ami's Etrange héritage (1985) and Akua Ekué's Le crime de la rue des notables (1989). As of today, these are the only two novels produced by women in Togo. Lawson-Body raises the valid question of a female literature with only two works. He never explores, however, the reasons for the paucity of female writing in Togo. Engaging in a discussion about writing and militancy, the author fails to analyze why Ekué's voice would be shaped by activism. He discards the two texts as minor literature, as "romans à l'eau de rose," which they are not. In fact, using the motif of the voyage, Guy-Lokou Missodey brings out the originality of Akua Ekué's text, which focuses on plagiarism and intellectual property. He degenerates, however, when he salutes her patriotism (for showing her country under a positive light!) and her maternal/motherly instinct toward her protagonist! In turn, Têko-Agbo's article salutes the two women novelists' innovativeness, but for the wrong reasons: they are daring in their efforts to distinguish themselves from what he calls the doxa of African women writers. He denigrates African literature by women, calling it "monotonous and monomaniac, a viscous layer" (126). These articles have a bitter familiar aftertaste of male criticism in the early eighties, when African women writers were criticized or ridiculed in their choices of first-person narratives and their focus on women's issues. That a book on African women writers would engage in belittling female writing, that it would reproduce in its mere structure the silencing of women, is surprising, to say the least. [End Page 208]

Next to the predictable image of woman as mother/Mother Africa, as a source of suffering, or of inspiration for the poet, the section on women's representations offers some insightful analyses. Tassou's interpretation of gender roles in male narratives gives some perspective on some recent Togolese novels. Dotsé Yigbe's on the image of women in Félix Couchoro's work offers a pertinent rereading of Couchoro. Ayawavi Zonvide's sharp analysis of Etrange héritage highlights new types of female characters and new aspirations. The last article, on women and literary criticism, confirms this note of hope: despite the paucity of female...


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