- Les Bouts de bois de Dieu by Sembène Ousmane
The most widely read and studied of Sembène’s novels, Les Bouts de bois de Dieu is a fictionalized reconstruction of the Dakar–Niger railway-workers’ strike of 1947. Bouba Tabti-Mohammedi’s critical guide presents a clear and concise analysis of this classic of francophone African literature. The Introduction gives an overview of the 1960s, a key [End Page 415] period in the move towards independence of former colonies across Africa, acknowledging the internal and external factors that would shape the futures of these new nations. Some knowledge is assumed on the part of the reader in the reference to Frantz Fanon, without further explanation of his background and role in the anti-colonial struggle. However, this oversight is an exception in what is otherwise a very thorough introductory text. Chapter 1 then turns to Sembène’s life, tracing his trajectory from his childhood in Dakar, through his limited formal schooling and entry into the worlds of work and politics. Sembène’s move to Marseilles in 1949 is accorded the coverage it deserves by Tabti-Mohammedi, given its influence on Sembène’s politics and writing. The chapter considers Sembène’s increasing investment in film, and concludes with a brief outline of each of his novels and films. Chapter 2 examines Sembène’s choice of realism in his novels, a choice that, Tabti-Mohammedi remarks, ‘s’impose pour donner à voir, transmettre un savoir, mais aussi pour faire réfléchir à la nécessité d’une action’ (p. 35). There follows a summary of the plot of Les Bouts de bois de Dieu and discussion of the novel’s structure — invaluable to a reader coming to Sembène’s novel for the first time. Chapter 3 is dedicated to an overview of the central characters of Les Bouts de bois de Dieu, which the author justifies by emphasizing their importance in the movement of the plot between different geographical and temporal locations. A brief Conclusion remarks that the overriding impression left by the novel is one of victory on the part of the African people, ‘pas seulement parce que les grévistes ont obtenu gain de cause mais aussi parce que tout ce qui avait si longtemps été dévalorisé, reprend sens’ (p. 101). The guide concludes with a set of six brief critical comments on Sembène’s novel, which point the reader towards further questions for consideration. Overall, this is an accessible and carefully researched guide that will inform those coming to Sembène’s novel for the first time, and provide a useful starting point for students wishing to research the novel in more depth.