Research in African Literatures 35.1 (2004) 214-215
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Francophone Studies: The Essential Glossary. Ed. Margaret A. Majumdar. London: Arnold, 2002. xxiii + 280pp. ISBN 0-340-80697-4 paper.
The task of writing a book review for a "glossary" is somewhat of a challenge. Ultimately, the text's stated objective with regard to function and audience provided the point of entry for me: "This book offers an introduction to Francophone Studies and a route-map to further study. Designed specifically with undergraduates in mind, it contains concise and accessible explanations of the key words, events, figures and concepts in Francophone Studies since 1945" (cover blurb). My journey into this glossary was made with these concerns in mind as I attempted to determine its potential usefulness to undergraduate students.
The fundamental shortcomings with this volume originate in its actual conceptualization. While a considerable effort has been made to incorporate as many facets as possible of francophone studies—from geography, politics, history, literature, music, sports, and so forth—considerations pertaining to broader practical aspects have been ignored. There is, for example, no introductory essay situating the field of francophone studies itself, its relation to postcolonial studies and other interdisciplinary approaches to culture, locating its historical trajectory, and of course questioning how this relatively new field of inquiry has been simultaneously embraced and challenged institutionally in Britain, France, and the United States—as well as questioned by numerous francophone cultural practitioners (fortunately, the strength of entries by Andy Stafford and David Murphy make up for this—"Francophone Black Atlantic" and "Francophone Discourse," respectively). Furthermore, individual entries are often incomplete in multiple ways (to avoid underlining specific entries, I encourage readers to sample selected areas of interest and judge for themselves), references to individual authors often neglect key works and aesthetic/thematic developments, the "further reading" sections have a tendency to be out of date, and full bibliographic references to works are not provided. Having said this, such entries as "Calixthe Beyala," "Werewere Liking," "Aminata Sow Fall," and "Véronique Tadjo" by Nicki Hitchcott are useful, providing suggestions for new research and reading, whereas Peter Hawkins's entry on "Sony Lab'ou Tansi," arguably the most important francophone African writer of his generation, neither indicates nor locates with any degree of specificity the remarkable contributions made this writer (with no less than six novels published with the prestigious publishing house Editions du Seuil), reducing the entry to a detailed reference to one novel and a later play, and thereby compromising the integrity of the volume. [End Page 214]
While an editorial decision may have been made to provide contributors with flexibility, the apparent absence of specific guidelines or their enforcement at the editorial level (such as information on major works by authors and significant research contributions for example) means that the quality of contributions is remarkably uneven. The bibliography fails to compensate for this, thereby voiding the pedagogic dimension of the glossary: major critical contributions to the Caribbean, Maghrebi, sub-Saharan African, and Vietnamese components of francophone studies made by Réda Bensmaïa, John Conteh-Morgan, Manthia Diawara, F. Abiola Irele, Françoise Lionnet, Achille Mbembe, Christopher L. Miller, Lydie Moudileno, H. Adlai Murdoch, Panivong Norindr, Winifred Woodhull, among others, are ignored. A selection process has dictated the final structure of the volume, but there are nevertheless glaring omissions worth underscoring: Kossi Efoui, Kim Lefèvre, Alain Mabanckou, Abdourahman A. Waberi. A plethora of similar projects are already widely available, and this glossary will only be of limited usefulness to potential users.
University of California, Los Angeles