Descent into Hell at Camp Boiro, with Tierno Monénembo

The Guinean Tierno Monenembo is one of the great African novelists. A committed writer against the dictatorship and political mismanagement of his country, he lived for a long time in exile, before returning home in 2012. He is the author of fourteen novels, the last of which is titled indigo safari jacket, which narrates the living and the dead in the Sékou Touré concentration camp. It was published in January by Editions du Seuil.

I wrote to say “shit” to this shitty life, the need to rebel… “. This need for rebellion evoked by the Guinean writer Tierno Monénembo at the microphone of RFI, is at the origin of his new novel Saharan indigo, released earlier this year. This fourteenth novel from the pen of this great “master of the word” from Conakry opens with a moving cover that highlights the names of some twenty victims of the Sékou Touré dictatorship.

Say ” shit to a dictator who ran the country in the “ Road to hell “. The novel more particularly resurrects the hell that was Camp Boiro, the concentration camp erected by the Sékou Touré regime and where nearly 50,000 opponents were interrogated, tortured and exterminated during twenty years of the sinister dictator’s reign.

B as Boiro

The history of Camp Boiro is as much a part of the turbulent history of Guinean independence as September 28, 1958, the day Guinea said no to the referendum organized by de Gaulle’s France, Monénembo argues. Very politically committed, the writer recently denounced in unequivocal terms the decision of the new Guinean regime to rehabilitate Sékou Touré by naming Conakry airport after the dictator.

The novelist said that the idea of ​​going back through his imagination to the barbarism of the Sékou Touré years had been in his head since 2012, when he returned to settle in his native country, after forty long years of exile. But very soon the question arose of how to tell the story of torture and repression because of barbarism” don’t brag, she hides », in the words of the author.

More precisely, what role should the novelist play in the face of the tragedies of history, the author wonders. Be satisfied with recording the facts and the testimonies, just like the historian? For Tierno Monénembo, “ the role of the novelist is to reinvent history. You know, I wrote a novel about the Rwandan genocide. I didn’t count the machetes, the haemoglobins… I talked about before and after the genocide more than during the genocide. You don’t have to tell the story, you have to tell the story. You have to say. It is necessary to make history a beautiful legend, even if it is rotten. I do not hate. Anger, beauty. Beauty is called to turn the world upside down, Dostoevsky said.”

Unforgettable female figures

In the novel in question, this beauty destined to turn the world upside down is embodied by two unforgettable female figures, traumatized by life, but at the same time inhabited by an overwhelming vitality that enables them to sustain and herald new dawns.

The first, Véronique Bangoura, is a Guinean in her forties, and the second is Madame Corre, a French woman, older, eccentric as you like. Both Parisians, are in front of a patisserie on rue Monge in incredible conditions. They get to know each other, before discovering, along the way, that they have much in common.

Above all, they have in common the Guinea of ​​Sékou Touré, origin of the misfortunes and tragedies that they carefully hide behind their appearances, that of an immigrant nurse, for the Guinean, pushing a wheelchair through the 5th district of Paris, and that of a supposed fortune teller, half hippie, half upper class woman, for Madame Corre. In her carefree youth she had known Guinea well, where she left behind a husband executed before her eyes and a mestizo child requisitioned by the regime.

Saharan indigo © Threshold

indigo safari jacket opens with the crazy night when the fate of the story’s heroine, Véronique Bangoura, changes when she flees her parents’ house by jumping off the balcony. She had just killed her police officer’s father who had raped her. She was from the mouth of the secret agent, dressed in an indigo safari jacket, who had followed her after her murder, that the young woman, then 15 years old, knew the secret of her origins. She was born in Camp Boiro, where her real parents were interned and then killed. The man she had just stabbed to death was not her real father, but a Camp Boiro guard who had adopted her until the death of her parents.

These revelations will not be unrelated to the headlong career of young Véronique Bangoura, whose bumpy journey from Guinea to Europe is told here with a vivid sense of drama and twists and turns. We are in a story where the protagonist must tame monsters in order to meet her destiny again.

At the same time, on the revelations about the true identity of the two protagonists, a whole little-known part of post-independence Guinean history emerges. With a masterful hand, Tierno Monenembo directs the plot, leading his readers between Paris and Conakry, between the past and the present. The novel is also characterized by its choice to give voice to women, who here embody the tragic history of the Guinean people.

Since my debut, women have been an essential voice in my novels. This time, I chose to make a strong female voice heard again, that of Véronique Bangoura, a Guinean. The word “Guinea” means woman in the Soussou language. Our country is a woman. For all these reasons, I wanted to change the title of the book. indigo safari jacket The publisher forced it on me. I had proposed Life and death of Veronique Bangouraor at the limit veronique bangoura all alone like Therese Desqueyroux, Anna Karenina Where Mrs Bouary. I was very uninspired, but I referred to Madame Bovary as a body, as a thought, as a desire, as a frustration. »

Tierno Monénembo could certainly have also quoted the Algerian Kateb Yacine, whose highly lyrical Nedmja was, in the words of the author himself, the true model of his novel indigo safari jacket. Like Nedjma, who is the symbol of Algeria, Véronique Bangoura represents here the metaphor of Guinean destiny.

A man sewn with white threads

Tierno Monenembo has been contemplating this Guinean destination for a long time from a distance, having fled his country in 1969, at the age of 23. It was in exile that he began to write and published his first novel. bush toads in 1979. A particularly prolific writer, he now has to his credit a rich oeuvre of fourteen novels, several of which have won prestigious prizes: Grand Prix de l’Afrique noire, Renaudot. His novels give a great place to nostalgia, to exile, but also to social criticism and history. Divided between the untraceable house and the world, the Guinean’s fiction takes its readers on a journey through countries, ideas and obsessions, clamoring for the values ​​of plurality and the creative chaos of renewal.

It is undoubtedly this attachment to plurality that leads the novelist to call himself ” breakup man » « i was born in guineahe continues, I lived in Senegal, in the Ivory Coast, in France, in Algeria, in Morocco, in the United States, in Canada. I am a man sewn with white thread. My life has no coherence, my work has no coherence either. The writer is a lost man, necessarily. We write when we are completely lost. It is when you have not understood anything about life that you write. He who has understood something of life, lives it as he foolishly defines himself. The writer asks questions. Because the issue is intoxication. The question is a danger, it is the open door to the abyss… »

Tierno Monénembo’s readers willingly follow him in his drunkenness and abysses. Because how can we not get carried away by the grace and power of this writing that consoles us for the disorder of existence and the fury of the world that the Guinean unfolds throughout his epic stories of a wounded and defeated humanity?


indigo safari jacketby Tierno Monenembo. Editions du Seuil, 331 pages, 20 euros.

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