Country Focus: Djibouti
In the United States of Africa
By Abdourahman A. Waberi
Translated by David and Nicole Ball
Foreword by Percival Everett
Originally published in French as Aux États-Unis d’Afrique by Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès, 2006.
My edition: University of Nebraska Press, 2009
Time period: Contemporary
Notes: Waberi, a Djiboutian writer who lives in France, has published several novels. Passage of Tears, Transit, and The Land Without Shadows have been translated into English.
World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)
I would need to reread In the United States of Africa multiple times in order to begin to wring out everything that Waberi has packed into these 123 pages. He drops dozens of names of real-life successful Africans like Chris Seydou (a Malian fashion designer) and Gerard Sekoto (a South African artist and musician), and unfamiliar African cities like Asmara and Luanda. Who are these people? Where are these places? Waberi’s book was curiously effective at making this American reader feel like one of the disenfranchised North Americans of his novel. A tough but intriguing read from a talented writer.
If narratives can bloom again, if languages, words and stories can circulate again, if people can learn to identify with characters from beyond their borders, it will assuredly be a first step toward peace. A movement of identification, projection, and compassion – that’s the solution. And it is the exact opposite of the worried—and worrying—identity so widely cultivated. Instead of the “we” so proudly trumpeted, the “we” flexing its muscles, puffing up its pectorals, it is another “we,” diffracted, interactive, translated, a waiting, listening “we”—in short a dialoguing “we” will be born. And then this: you are absolutely sure, Maya, that the private, quiet dialogue of reading will really be the touchstone, the prelude of millions of dialogues spoken aloud in broad daylight. This is how peace will come to the world.
Djiboutian writers need to be translated! In the meantime, make do with one from a best-selling American writer who set his novel in this East African country.