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"Humus" by Fabienne Kanor: when women's voices take shape

The novel Humus by French author Fabienne Kanor finally meets the English-speaking public thanks to Lynn E. Palermo's translation. As a forum for the voices of slave women desperately trying to escape a dreadful and dehumanizing fate, Humus presents numerous dialogues and performances that bring to life the real characters history had forgotton for too long. Through these stories told on paper and then adapted for the stage, Fabienne Kanor invites the chosen witnesses of these heroines' epic to be bearers of a nuanced collective memory about slavery.

A novel by Fabienne Kanor 
Translated by Lynn E. Palermo
Published by University of Virginia Press

While researching in Nantes, a port city enriched by the slave trade, celebrated French novelist Fabienne Kanor encountered a chilling report written in 1774 by the commander of a slave ship, Le Soleil. Captain Louis Mosnier explained the loss of valuable “cargo” when fourteen African women escaped from the ship’s hold and chose to leap overboard into the sea, rather than be taken into slavery. Half of them drowned or were eaten by sharks.

From this historical episode, Fabienne Kanor has composed a powerful novel that shifts our focus from commerce to the women themselves. In this polyphonic work, each woman tells her own story. Their disparate lives from differing cultures, conditions, and perspectives intersect and intertwine through their violent transition from freedom to captivity, and form a chorus in their collective act of resistance.

About Fabienne Kanor

Born in France to Caribbean parents, Dr. Fabienne Kanor teaches French and Francophone Literature and Cinema. An award-winning writer and filmmaker, she has directed many movies (mostly documentaries) and published seven novels, including among others D'eaux Douces (2004), Humus (2006), and Je ne suis pas un homme qui pleure (2016). Set in Louisiana, her next novel tells the story of a Cameroonian man in search of his identity (2020).

Named by the French Minister of Culture "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres," Fabienne Kanor devotes her career to studying Race, Gender, and Migrations in France and Francophone Africa. She has just translated Zora Neale Hurston’s book Barracoon, the Story of the Last "Black Cargo" (March 2019, Lattes).