The Belly of the Atlantic
by Fatou Diome
Salie, the narrator of this story, is a Senegalese woman now living in France. Her little half-brother, Madické dreams of joining her there. He believes, like many of his Senagalese brothers, that the route to France is via football. In his frequent phone calls to Salie he begs her that if she can only get the fare to him he can get a trial with a French team and become rich and famous. Salie despairs. She knows the truth about life as an immigrant and urges Madické not to believe the mendacious stories of returnees like the “man from Barbčs” and others.
Salie was an outsider on the little Senegalese island of Niodior because she was illegitimate. She left to marry, got divorced, and now feels that she belongs nowhere. Home is neither France nor Senegal and she tries to convey this to Madické, in terms he will understand. She explains to him that even the most successful émigré footballers are subjected to racist taunts and abuse. But Madické doesn’t believe her and assumes that she must be rich and comfortable if she’s living in Europe. (The recent riots involving young immigrants in the Paris Banlieu and the Zidane “incident” in the 2006 World Cup are testimony to Salie’s warnings).
This is an incredibly rich book in which Fatou Diome manages in a mere 182 pages to convey an incredible amount of information. She tackles immigration, modern life in French west Africa, feminism, politics, economics and polygamy, the scourge of African society, a practice that, she believes, prevents progress. She writes:
“If only men would stop measuring their virility in the number of children they produce. You don’t need a maths degree to grasp that the more people there are the less bread here is for each person.”
This isn’t to say that the book is simply worthy. It is full of amazing characters, and while it may suffer a little from the translation, it is written with wonderful poetic description and wry humour.
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