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Black History Month 2021: New and Forthcoming Publications

In celebration of Black History Month, we thought we could point out a few publications in translation from the French that have come out recently in the U.S. As a bonus, you’ll find a few additional recommended books for the months to come. These publications will allow us to celebrate Black history beyond the month of February, and we are delighted to engage. 

The books below tackled many issues from privilege to social justice, postcolonialism and sovereignty, to intersectionality, creolization and otherness. 

Happy informed reading! 


Fiction  

  1. That Time of Year  by Marie Ndiaye
    (Two Lines Press, Sept. 2020, Tr. Jordan Stump)

It is time for the vacationing Parisians to abandon their rural getaways and return to normal life. But Herman’s wife and child are nowhere to be found. Concerned, he sets out into the oppressive rain and cold for news of their whereabouts. The community he encounters, however, has become alien, practically unrecognizable, and his urgent inquiry, placed in the care of local officials, is quickly shuffled into a deck of labyrinthine bureaucracy. A literary horror story about power and assimilation, That Time of Year is a nightmarish vision of otherness, privilege, and social amnesia, told with potent clarity and a heady dose of the weird. 

Why you should read it: Delve into Marie NDiaye’s literary universe: An expert at crafting narratives of psychological realism, Ndiaye builds tension like no other, and she never disappoints.  More Info  

  1. The Immortals by Makenzy Orcel
    (SUNY Press, Nov. 2020, tr. by Nathan H. Dize)

Set in an infamous neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, on Grand-Rue, where many women, young and old, trade in flesh, sex, and desire, Orcel’s award-winning novel portrays the lives of prostitutes in Haiti, amid the 2010 earthquake. To preserve the memory of women she lived and worked with, the anonymous narrator makes a deal with a client once she discovers he is a writer: sex in exchange for recording the stories of the friends who were buried beneath the rubble. She tells the stories of friends, lovers, daughters, and mothers. Mingling poetry and prose, Orcel centers stories that too often go untold, while reflecting on the power and limits of storytelling in the face of catastrophe. 

Why you should read it: The Immortals is an original account of the devastating event brought upon Haiti and an ode to the anonymous who perished in the earthquake. Orcel is part of a new generation of Haitian writers to discover and this is his first book to be published in English. More Info  

  1. Humus by Fabienne Kanor
    (University of Virginia Press, Sept 2020, tr. by Lynn E. Palermo)

While researching in Nantes, a port city enriched by the slave trade, celebrated French novelist Fabienne Kanor came across a chilling report written in 1774 by the commander of a slave ship, Le Soleil. Captain Louis Mosnier recounted the loss of valuable "cargo" when fourteen African women escaped from the ship’s hold to leap overboard rather than face enslavement. Half of them drowned or were eaten by sharks. From this tragic incident, Kanor has composed a powerful, polyphonic novel in which each woman tells her own vivid story. Their disparate lives from differing cultures, conditions, and perspectives intersect through their violent mistreatment, profound sense of disorientation, and collective act of resistance. More info  

Why you should read it: This strong narrative comments on the brutalizing effects of slavery for not only the victims but also the oppressors, who inevitably dehumanize themselves as a result of their actions. More Info  

  1. At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
    (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Nov. 2020, tr. by Anna Moschovakis)

Alfa Ndiaye, a Senegalese man who finds himself fighting as a so-called “Chocolat” soldier with the French army during World War I. When his friend Mademba Diop is seriously injured in battle, Diop begs Alfa to kill him and spare him the pain of a long and agonizing death in No Man’s Land. Unable to commit this mercy killing, madness creeps into Alfa’s mind as he comes to see this refusal as a cruel moment of cowardice. Anxious to avenge the death of his friend, he begins a macabre ritual: every night he sneaks across enemy lines to find and murder a blue-eyed German soldier, and every night he returns to base, unharmed, with the German’s severed hand. 

Why you should read it: The book was named a most anticipated book by Literary Hub, Electric Literature, The Millions and was selected by students across France to win the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. This gripping, chilling tale will have you explore an overlooked chapter of World War I. More info. 

  1. Brotherhood by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr
    (Europa Editions, Mar 2021, Tr. By Alexia Trigo) 

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s searing and thought-provoking debut novel takes place in the imaginary town of Kalep, where a fundamentalist Islamist government has spread its brutal authority. Under the regime of the so-called Brotherhood, two young people are publicly executed for having loved each other. In response, their mothers begin a secret correspondence, their only outlet for the grief they share and each woman’s personal reckoning with a leadership that would take her beloved child’s life. At the same time, spurred on by their indignation at what seems to be an escalation of The Brotherhood’s brutality, a band of intellectuals and free-thinkers seeks to awaken the conscience of the cowed populace and foment rebellion by publishing an underground newspaper. 

Why you should read it: Winner of the French Voices Grand Prize, the Prix Ahmadou Kourouma, and the Grand Prix du Roman Métis, Brotherhood examines oppression, valor and cowardice in an especially skillful manner. More Info

Non Fiction  

  1. In Search of Africa(s): Universalism and Decolonial Thought by Souleymane Bachir Diagne and Jean-Loup Amselle
    (Wiley, May 2020, Tr. by Andrew Brown)

The postcolonial paradigm, and the more recent decolonial paradigm, raise the issue of the universal: is the postcolonial the first phase of a new universalism—one which would be truly universal because it would be fully inclusive—or is it, on the contrary, the denial of all universalism, the triumph of the particular and of fragmentation? In addressing this issue, Diagne and Amselle also tackle many related themes, such as the concepts of race, culture and identity, the role of languages in philosophy as practiced in different cultural areas, the various conceptions of Islam, and the outlines of an Africa which can be thought of at the same time as singular and as plural.  

Why you should read it: An important dialogue by two leading scholars. This contribution to the current postcolonial discourse is especially relevant for digging deeper into issues that have been widely discussed this past year. More Info

  1. Africa's Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story by Fanny Pigeaud, Ndongo Samba Sylla
    (Pluto Press, February 2021, Tr. By Thomas Fazi, foreword by William Mitchell)

The CFA Franc was created in 1945, binding fourteen African states and split into two monetary zones. Why did French colonial authorities create it and how does it work? Why was independence not extended to monetary sovereignty for former French colonies? Through an exploration of the genesis of the currency and an examination of how the economic system works, the authors seek to answer these questions and more. As protests against the colonial currency grow, the need for myth-busting on the CFA Franc is vital and this exposé of colonial infrastructure proves that decolonization is unfinished business. 

Why you should read it: As the debate around currencies is rapidly evolving, the question of sovereignty and power, of who has something to gain from current infrastructures and economic systems, is key. More Info  

  1. The Wombs of Women: Race, Capital, Feminism by Françoise Vergès
    (Duke University Press, 2020, Tr. by Kaiama L. Glover)

In the 1960s thousands of poor women of color on the (post)colonial French island of Reunion had their pregnancies forcefully terminated by white doctors; the doctors operated under the pretext of performing benign surgeries, for which they sought government compensation. When the scandal broke in 1970, the doctors claimed to have been encouraged to perform these abortions by French politicians who sought to curtail reproduction on the island, even though abortion was illegal in France. In The Wombs of Women Vergès traces the long history of colonial state intervention in black women’s wombs during the slave trade and postslavery imperialism as well as in current birth control politics.  

Why you should read it: This piece vitally discusses the intersection of gender and sexuality studies with postcolonial and colonial studies, making it a critical addition to the ever-developing framework of feminist theory. More info

  1. Out of the Dark Night: Essays on Decolonization by Achille Mbembe
    (Columbia University Press, 2020, Tr. by Daniela Ginsburg)

In Out of the Dark Night, Mbembe offers a rich analysis of the paradoxes of the postcolonial moment that points toward new liberatory models of community, humanity, and planetarity. In a nuanced consideration of the African experience, Mbembe makes sweeping interventions into debates about citizenship, identity, democracy, and modernity. Out of the Dark Night reconstructs critical theory’s historical and philosophical framework and expands our sense of the futures made possible by decolonization. 

Want to read more about the author’s work? Mbembe’s Brutalisme is forthcoming with Duke University Press in 2021. 

Why you should read it: Achille Mbembe’s critiques of colonialism and its aftermath are among the world’s most profound. He is thus a significant figure in developing the new wave of French critical theory. His compositions analyze the intricacies of decolonization for African subjectivities and the prospects arising afterward. More info 

  1. Refugee by Emmanuel Mbolela
    (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Apr.  2021, Tr. By Charlotte Collins)

Persecuted for his political activism, Emmanuel Mbolela left the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002. His search for a new home would take six years. In that time, he endured corrupt customs officials, duplicitous smugglers, Saharan ambushes, and untenable living conditions. Yet his account relates not only the storms of his long journey but also the periods of calm. While still stateless, Mbolela becomes an advocate for those around him, founding and heading up the Association of Congolese Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Morocco to fight for migrant rights. Since obtaining political asylum in the Netherlands in 2008, he has remained a committed activist.  

Why you should read it: Refugee is required reading for everyone seeking to learn more about the pressing current issues surrounding the human rights violations that take place against migrants within the border system. In this regard, Mbolela’s straightforward account speaks to the lived experience of millions of other refugees.  More info 

Poetry 

  1.  Sun of Consciousness by Edouard Glissant 
    (Nightboat Books, Feb. 2020, Tr. by Nathanaël)

Originally published in 1956, Sun of Consciousness is one of the earliest works by renowned Martinican author Edouard Glissant. Foreshadowing much of his oeuvre as whole, it is a subversively hybrid text encompassing poetry, essays, and philosophical meditations. It is characterized by its exploratory, intimate character, and introduces Glissant’s concerns with creolization, worldliness (as opposed to globalization), and opacity, inscribing his work within a refusal of colonialism and inverted exoticism. By positioning himself as both different and same, Glissant opens a space for the writing of a(nother) history: that of the Caribbean. 

Interested in Glissant, the philosopher? Edouard Glissant, Philosopher: Heraclitus and Hegel in the Whole-World by Alexandre Leupin, in Andrew Brown’s translation is forthcoming with SUNY Press this April. 

Why you should read it: Few works of Edouard Glissant have appeared in English and yet Edouard Glissant is one of the greatest writers of the late twentieth century. This book of essay and poetry will serve as a great introduction to some of his later works and it has been masterfully translated by Nathanael. More Info  

For the Little Ones   

  1. Akissi: Even More Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet  & Mathieu Sapin
    (Nobrow / Flying Eye Books, Sept. 2020, Tr. by Marie Bédrune) 
    For Age 7-11 years 

Our plucky young troublemaker Akissi is back with even more tales of mischief on The Ivory Coast! This time, she plays matchmaker with mixed results, tries to avoid moving to the snowy, wolf-infested wilds of Paris, and turns her hand to poetry – which stinks. Inspired by her childhood in Africa, writer Marguerite Abouet takes readers on even more hilarious adventures with the mischievous but loveable Akissi, who returns for more “girls will be girls” adventures. Join Akissi, her crew of friends and her brother Fofana for all the silly fun in this brightly illustrated comic. 

Why you should read it: We all need a little mischief and a little humor these days, and the adventures of Akissi provide exactly just that. More Info  

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