Nouchi—the Making of a New Ivorian Language: An Interview with Mema Bamba

By Dr. Peter Vakunta

Q1- Peter Vakunta:  In your own words, how would you define Nouchi?  Is it a composite language, slang, or pidginized French?
A1-Mema Bamba: Nouchi is a vernacular language, nonstandard French of sorts, spoken predominantly by the urban youth in Côte d’Ivoire. Yes, it is also pidginized language, composed of formal French mixed with some local languages, the main ones being Dioula, Baoule, and Bete. Nouchi also borrows from foreign languages such as English, German and Spanish to expand and enrich its vocabulary. Beyond the linguistic aspect, Nouchi reflects the mixture of occidental cultures with local ones.  In a sense, Nouchi could be defined as a hybrid language.

Q2-Peter Vakunta:   What is the genesis of this linguistic revolution in Côte d’Ivoire? Put differently, what socio-cultural events led to the birth of Nouchi?
A2- Mema Bamba:
It would be difficult to pinpoint a specific socio-cultural movement leading to the birth of Nouchi. But, we can speculate that the language has evolved over the years since the time of colonization with the national population adding its personal twist to the language of the colonizers. Recent vestiges of Nouchi could be traced back to neighborhoods in Abidjan, such as Adjame, Abobo and Yopougon, but more specifically in the ghettoes of these places. The uneducated population utilizes Nouchi as a tool for daily communication, and also for business.  Given the complexity of formal French, and the illiteracy of the people, it is understandable why Nouchi has become a lingua franca in Côte d’Ivoire. This ‘false’ French enables the locals to better express their daily needs, experiences, imagination and sensibilities. They add a few words here and there to make up a lexicon that serves as a perfect tool for the interpretation of social realities. Initially, looked down by many, Nouchi has made its way up to the mainstream of social discourses. It has now been exported out of the slums and propagated through music with the advent of the musical genre called zouglou. Zouglou bands, usually from the slums constantly resort to Nouchi as a way to convey their messages. Pioneer musicians such as Yang system, Kassiri, or Gor La Montagne who were either gangsters or slum-dwellers made it very fashionable to sing in Nouchi. And gradually, Nouchi spread to other art forms, notably sitcoms, Ivorian Rap and comics. Today Nouchi is part and parcel of Ivorian cultural identity. Think of Nouchi and Zouglou as Ebonics and rap music and you would get a better idea of what this language is made of.
Q3- Peter Vakunta: Is Nouchi the only slang spoken by Ivorians, or one of many hybrid languages in Côte d’Ivoire?
A3-Mema Bamba: Nouchi is by far the main, if not the sole slang spoken by Ivorians. Other lingos exist but are barely known to the public given that they are spoken in smaller circles of friends, or are limited to specific geographic regions in the country. Hence, they tend to disappear with time. It might also be due to the fact that other slangs fail to catch up or compete with the ubiquitous Nouchi in the metropolis.
Q4- Peter Vakunta:  When Ivorians resort to Africanized French in discourses, is it a manifestation of extreme discomfort with standard French or an attempt to resist cultural imperialism?   
A4- Mema Bamba: Neither one of these cases! Africanized French is just French (presumably calqued on French as spoken in France) adapted to the reality of francophone Africans, which reflects their social and cultural identities. It is the same as Black English in America. African Americans do not resort to Ebonics as a sign of discomfort with Standard American English nor for anti-imperialistic reasons. Nouchi (let’s call it Ivorian French), though different from the French spoken by most Ivorians is more of a signature language, meaning that it is an adaptation of hexagonal French, defined and spoken by a specific group within the  population. It is a coded language that requires some insights into the socio-cultural aspects of social reality in Côte d’Ivoire to understand it. Even if one were to learn and master the vocabulary and grammar of Nouchi, it would still be a challenge to understand this language without a basic understanding of its socio-cultural context, including the sub-cultures that sustain it. At best, Nouchi translates the psychological mindset and mannerisms of its speakers. Note also that it is a language whose lexicon can change overnight following a major event or new trends within the population. An Ivorian who spends much time outside the country could be out of sync with Nouchi.  Things get even more complicated for complete strangers or novices to the language; the more so because some standard French words do not always best translate or explain reality that is unique to “nouchiphones”. Using standard French words to describe local reality often results in semantic loss.
Q5- Peter Vakunta:   Camfranglais, a Cameroonian slang akin to Nouchi, has been described by quite a few linguists and educational authorities in Cameroon as a threat to standard French. Is this the case with Nouchi in Côte d’Ivoire?
A5- Mema Bamba: It is most likely the same in Côte d’Ivoire, which is normal given that educational authorities would always frown upon any slang being used in an educational setting. But, again, we must not lose sight of the fact that city life is part of national culture in every country; it is part of the identity of the people who speak it. What makes Nouchi and other urban languages despised in educational settings is that, though they are fundamentally based on French, they do not comply with the basic rules (sentence structures, vocabulary and other grammatical rules) of the mother-language—French. So, they are perceived as rebel languages, and of course, being standard rule-breaking languages, linguists or teachers could see that as a threat, because this defies the norm.
Q6-Peter Vakunta: Has there been attempts to codify Nouchi in order to provide Nouchiphones with a uniform code for transcribing this emerging language into literature, news broadcasts and other forms of written communication?
A6-Mema Bamba: Nouchi is predominantly a spoken slang, but is gradually becoming a written language. It still has its limitations, given that its grammar and orthography are not yet standardized to be followed consistently and uniformly in a written form. In terms of a uniform code,, a website devoted to the promotion of Nouchi, is by far the prime entity pushing for this initiative. And again, the website is constantly updated with entries from users. There is no formal institution, nor entity that regulates the use of Nouchi, as you would see with the French Academy. is much like its American counterpart .
Most human languages contrary to machine or computer languages evolve from oral to written forms. Computer languages at the infancy stage might already have rigorous sets of rules; such is not the case for human languages. Before a language reaches the stage of formalization, it has to be adopted by a number of persons and survive over time. Nouchi is crossing the chasm and might have a uniform code for transcription soon rather than later.
Q7- Peter Vakunta:  Are there works of fiction written in Nouchi.  What particular challenges do these works constitute for readers not proficient in Nouchi?
 A7- Mema Bamba: Nouchi is an oral language. It has not evolved enough yet to find a presence in written literature. Given that it is more spoken than written it would be difficult to find a book, whether fiction or any other genre, written entirely in Nouchi. The few times you might find Nouchi in writing is between characters in works of fiction (novels, plays, etc) conversing in the lingo. In such a case the author would report the conversation verbatim. In other cases, some excerpts of writings could be in Nouchi, but less likely to be entirely in Nouchi. A work of literature written entirely in Nouchi would be challenging for readers not proficient in the language because of the socio-cultural knowledge needed to decode the message. A literal translation or knowledge of semantics might not be enough to comprehend such a dynamic and sociocultural language. You would not see any academic publication or newscasts in Nouchi. However, it is used abundantly in sitcoms, humoristic newspapers or cartoons like Gbich, an Ivorian comic strip. Written Nouchi is not easy to find in common literature (fiction, poems, plays), but one day that could be the case. Though I cannot think of a work of fiction, I know for sure about the case of music in Nouchi. Famous artists such as the band Garagistes or pop singer Soum Bill use Nouchi in their lyrics. Though outsiders can enjoy the melody and rhythm of their songs, it can be an uphill task to comprehend the lyrics.
Q8- Peter Vakunta:  How would you respond to a member of the Académie française who contends that Nouchiphones are bastardizing the language of Molière?  
Q8- Mema Bamba: Each language has its purpose and importance for its speakers. Nouchi might be colloquial and misjudged, but it surely serves it purpose. In a country with sixty (60) ethnic languages, Nouchi practically breaks the language barriers that divide the people, and gives them an option, somehow, of using a uniform language comprised of standard French and bits and pieces of their own native tongues. Moreover, most people speak Nouchi by choice, not because they are compelled to do so. For instance, students can choose to talk in academic French in classroom settings, but resort to Nouchi when conversing with friends out of the classroom. Whoever says that Nouchi bastardizes the language of Molière is ignorant of the linguistic realities of Africa. Such a person expects Nouchi to conform to the rules set by the Académie française. In other words, Nouchi should be a daughter-language to standard French, inheriting its orthographic and grammatical structures. This is not tenable because Nouchi expresses a reality distinct from French reality—African experience. The non-conformity of Nouchi in matters relating to rules of classic French does not make it an illegitimate, or a lesser language. Most romance languages, including French and Italian, evolved from Vulgar Latin (the everyday language, spoken by common people and tradesmen; casual language, so to speak)rather than classic Latin(used in writing more than for anything else; formal). I doubt that it would be correct to assert that these languages did damage to the quality of Latin. On another note, the linguistic value of Nouchi cannot and should not solely be measured by grammar or comparison to another language. I am sure many anthropologists and linguists would find it fascinating that Nouchi is a dynamic language that serves its speakers very well, whether they do it by choice or necessity.
Q9- Peter Vakunta:   Any final word for language purists who predict the demise of Nouchi, Français Moussa, etc.?
A9- Mema Bamba: Nouchi is a very buoyant language in Côte d’Ivoire? It has come to stay. It is part of the pop culture; an entity of our national identity. Predicting the death of Nouchi is wishful thinking. The language is very dynamic on the geo-temporal planes. Expressions in Nouchi vary depending on the location and time-frames of its speakers.

Q10- Peter Vakunta:  What follows is an excerpt written in Nouchi.
Q10- Mema Bamba: This excerpt is the transcription of an oral commercial in Nouchi
Pour tout les mogo qui veulent visiter la Côte d’Ivoire, le meilleur care du pays c’est Babi la belle. A Babi, il y a touts le kens pour t’enjailler à gogo.
Si tu vas à Babi, tu dois aller visiter les maquis pour te le gboli local.
The zegen est le plus o top. Zegen so quinze, poisson togo de l’eau glassée et ta journée est gagnée. Il faut gbo doucement pour le bon gout du gboli.
Il y a beaucoup d’enjaillement dans la jall. Me manque pas de te po avec les guistou du carre, pour guincher ou just écouter la zic du pays com le coupé décalé. En grand mot, enjoy Babi la Belle, et apprend un peu de Nouchi pendant que tu y est.
To whoever wants to visit Ivory Coast, the best place in the country is Abidjan aka Babi the beautiful. There are all kinds outlets to get the most fun in Abidjan.
While you are in Abidjan, you have to visit the local restaurant to taste local food. Garba, a local dish made of fried fish eaten with some puree of manioc, is the favorite one out there. Get some garba for 75 CFA and some fish for 100 CFA with some fresh water and your day is made. Eat slowly to enjoy it to the fullest.
There is a lot of entertainment in Abidjan, you can catch up with friends in a bar or hang out in a club and dance to some great music such as coupé décalé. In sum, Abidjan is great; learn some Nouchi while you are there.
Interview compiled in collaboration with Armel Affechi Yapo, a friend of Mema Bamba living in Abidjan.  We are grateful for his help in refreshing our minds and guiding us to the current state of Nouchi.

References for further reading

The Pragmatics of Poetic Translation: Interview With Poet-Translator, David T. Scheler - Part I

 By Dr. Peter Vakunta

Interpreting the meaning of texts and the subsequent production of equivalent texts that communicate the same message in another language for a target audience is gaining momentum and significance in a world increasingly interconnected for business and leisure. The challenge of taking into account constraints of context, rules of grammar of the two languages, writing conventions, and idioms, require not only professional acumen but intuition as well, that makes translation more of a science than an art. It is the inherent science that dispels the common misconception that translation is a straightforward mechanical process, or a word-for-word translation. The challenge is even enormous when we attempt to translate poems. In the following interview, Wisconsin-based poet-translator, David T. Scheler, sheds light on his motivations for engaging in the art of poetry translation and the attributes that make him tick as a creative writer. David’s poems, often written in English and translated into French and occasionally written in French and translated into English, have been published in the original English versions in numerous poetry journals in the United States. The interview below is conducted on behalf of The Entrepreneur Newsonline by Peter W. Vakunta, PhD, at Department of French and Italian, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Peter W. Vakunta: When did you start to translate poetry and why?
David T. Scheler: I started translating my own poems into French about a year after I began writing poetry. It’s interesting to note that I got into writing poetry only because a poet friend of mine who always listened to me make analogies by means of metaphors and similes, said to me: my gosh! You should try and connect these figures of speech and turn them into beautiful poems. So after a year, I started to work with some poets in the community, trying to hone my skills. They helped me connect the dots in my one-liners. Having studied French about thirty years ago, I realized that the language was quite beautiful and decided to incorporate some French words and phrases into my poetry. However, after some time, the idea of translating my English language poems into French occurred to me. So in 2000, I began to translate the poems I had written into French.

Peter W. Vakunta: So, what actually are your motivations for engaging in such a cross-lingual exercise?
David T. Scheler: It is primarily my love for the French language. French is just lovely; it is musical and melodic. I love the structure of the language. It tends to suit the way I write in English. So, it is less daunting for me than it is for most poets who use mainly English as a medium of communication.

Peter W. Vakunta: Some literary critics argue that any attempt to translate poetry is a non-starter. They maintain that poetic translation is not an accomplishable task. Do you subscribe to this school of thought? Is poetry untranslatable?
David T. Scheler: Hmmm, no! As a general rule, I’d say that such a claim would be incorrect. Certainly, some poetry would be extremely difficult to translate in such a manner that the music, rhythm, and essence are kept intact. This notwithstanding, to say that poetry is untranslatable is tantamount to saying that human beings cannot communicate across languages. We do this on a daily basis. There is no question that it would be a challenge for poets to take their own poems written in their mother tongues and turn them into a similar compressed piece of music that sculpts its own heart and still retain its essence in another language. I certainly agree that capturing the essence of some types of poems across languages may be difficult. Performance poetry, notably comedy can be quite difficult to translate because jokes in one culture do not always translate well in other cultures. However, I have had a lot of fun translating comic poems. They serve as wonderful editorial tools where a change in one language occasions a change in another language. Lately, I’ve taken to writing my own poems simultaneously in English and French because they tend to influence each other. My poems find themselves as I challenge the Muse.

Peter W. Vakunta: Have you had particular problems translating your poems from English into French?
David T. Scheler: I don’t view occasional hiccups as challenges. Rather, they constitute what I’d like to call an exciting creative journey. Writing a poem in any one language harbors its own challenges. Trying to distill and clarify what you’re trying to say in two languages; committing to writing how you feel takes a lot of writing and editing; it takes re-working. I don’t perceive this process as a hurdle; it is an exciting endeavor because as I work on the reverse process, I’m able to feel my poems organically taking shape. It’s more like taking a block of raw marble that requires winnowing, carving, and polishing it until it begins to take its own shape.

Peter W. Vakunta: Do you have any tricks of the trade that enable you to surmount translation hurdles?
David T. Scheler: Well, I think that when one has the concept laid out, and then starts to sculpt it, there are always ways to find stronger words and more colorful ways of elucidating the sensation, image, and experience. One of the things that I find so pleasing is that as I search for le mot juste in the French language, I often stumble on a word that is much better than the English original. The biggest challenge that I face in my translation is how to render colloquial expressions and comic words, the more so because humor is difficult to translate given its cultural specificity. It’s very difficult to try and create an analogous expression that works in both languages. Often, I do a little bit of semantic juggling to make it work.

Peter W. Vakunta: So, other than trying to create an analogy between source and target languages in terms of lexes and register, what other techniques do you employ to make sure that you don’t end up losing meaning as you transition from source to target text?
David T. Scheler:I think that what is peculiar to poetry is that you are not making a description of a recipe or giving directions. The translator does not need the precision that mathematicians need. Translations do not function the way mathematics does in the formulation of rules. Poetry is more like combining variables to produce sets of options, (multi-variable equations) or what linguists call ‘semantic context’. The important thing to note in translating yours or others’ poems is that when you set out on the poetic notion, you hone and sculpt, and carve in both languages, then you begin to see where the poem is taking you and the concept develops a creative context. When I look at a well written poem, I often see something that serves as a hint on the experience that occurred to the poet who gave birth to the poem. I can see that the writer is creating a nexus between the symbols, the events and then illuminating the connectivity between potentially disparate entities.

Peter W. Vakunta: How much premium do you put on the quest for le mot juste? Are you more interested in the search for the right word or the communicative function of the source text?
David T. Scheler: In an ideal world where you are compressing ideas into language and compressing that language to be as lucid and lyrical as possible, the most important thing would be le mot juste. Il faut choisir le mot juste, as the French would have it! But I believe that the overall effect of a translation would be a function of both the proper choice of words and the semantic interpretation of the source text.

Peter W. Vakunta:There is a school of thought which holds that poetic language is generally undergirded by the cultural specificities of the source language. How do you overcome the problem of cultural gaps in the translation process?
David T. Scheler: In the poems that I write and translate into French, the issue of cultural incompatibility is a less thorny problem because I simply translate my own thoughts and impressions into sound tones. I just happen to be employing two different media with specific vocabularies. However, I can see why this may pose a problem when one is translating poems written by another person. The reason is because the translator needs to take into account the contextual usage of language, both culturally and semantically. Furthermore the translator has to reckon with the aesthetic period and the stylistic trends that were in vogue at the time in order to begin to have a sense of what the poet was doing in an attempt to express that poet’s thoughts. In this case, it would be incumbent on the translator to do some research into the cultural and historical matrices of the poems to get a better understanding of the value systems prevalent in the milieu where the work of art saw the light of day. Having done this, the translator would then proceed to look at what a direct translation of the poem would produce before figuring out appropriate ways of unraveling, under the same circumstances, the meanings embedded in the source text.

Peter W. Vakunta: When you research the source-text culture, what modalities or paradigms do you employ?
David T. Scheler:Well, as part of my university studies, I did a lot of work on art history. I was also a musician and studied a lot of music, and so in looking at the cultural images embedded in poetry, such as the poems written by Guillaume Apollinaire, one needs to understand the transition from the period of late Romanticism all the way into the era of Surrealism to get a sense of what he was responding to or reacting against in his writing. In translating a poem written by Charles Baudelaire, for example, you need to understand the prevailing circumstances that gave rise to the idea that developed into a poem. When I translated one of his poems I had to go back to the roots of that whole genre. You have to get a sense of the aesthetic and cultural values of the poem by engaging in an exegetic process of deciphering the meanings intended by the poet in a bid to render it faithfully. You have to get under the skin of the poet and feel and have empathy for his/her intent. You must read into what the artist intended and then reformulate the thoughts in the target language in ways that make sense to the reader of the target text. In the final analysis, poetic translation becomes an act of hermeneutics—a succinct interpretation of the source text.

Peter W. Vakunta: Translating into a language that is not your mother tongue may harbor daunting challenges. How do you make up for linguistic deficiencies in your translations?
David T. Scheler:Well, it depends on what I’m trying to do in my translation. It is important to capture all the aesthetic elements in a poem; not just the syntax, not only the grammar but seek out words in combinations that would provide the poem with rhythm, texture, color, sound, music, and harmony. To me, this is of utmost importance. I generally steer clear of the word- for- word or even the phrase-for–phrase modus operandi. It is more important to capture the essence of a poem, its sensation and musicality than to simply try to emulate or mimic the language of the source text.

Peter W. Vakunta: Are there moments when you to resort to linguistic innovation in order to bridge perceptual gaps in the poems you translate?
David T. Scheler: There are moments when after reading some of the poems I’ve written in English, I simply say to myself, these poems are fun in English but I just don’t think they would work in the French language. In that case I would make one or two alterations to see if I could sort of push them there. But my gut instinct is that if it doesn’t work, just move onto to something else that does. I think this takes us back to a previous question you asked me about the translatability of poetry. I believe that some poems are untranslatable, and I’ve given you some examples, namely poems encapsulated in colloquial and proverbial expressions. At the same time, I have the impression that such a hurdle could be surmounted by resorting to analogy. An expression in English may have an analogous expression in French; the word may be totally different but the meaning would be there. So that’s one of the methods I employ to fill in conceptual vacuums in my translations rather than fret about the absence of equivalent or near-equivalent words. The essence of an idiomatic expression is the idea conveyed. It is the referent and not the precise translation of the word that matters the most.

Peter W. Vakunta: It would be interesting to know what you pay attention to the most in the translation process. Do you attach more importance to semantic equivalence or formal correspondence?
David T. Scheler: Well, I think both the lexical and the semantic are important components of language. They work together. Philosophically, when one studies linguistics, one has both the formal and semantic distinctions. Language as I mentioned earlier, is not as precise as mathematics. The integers 2, 5, 7 are a lot different in words than they are in figures, but 2, 5, 7 are precisely what they are in mathematics. I tend to look at poetic language through the prism of manipulating multiple equations to come up with a range of options. Certainly, some of the poems I write would lend themselves more readily to the formal approach to translation whereas others would call for the semantic/communicative approach. So, both mechanisms are important in the art of translation. The essential thing is to know when to have recourse to the one or the other. The weighting depends on the challenges a particular poem poses. I remember that in translating the Apollinaire poem, it was quite easy to use the formal correspondence method because it just worked but that wasn’t the case when I translated the Baudelaire poem. I had to do an incredible amount of lexical gymnastics to make the rhyme scheme work and capture the meaning, and essence of the poem. This is just an example of what translators need to do when they translate the works of others. You have to take into account the linguistic and extra- linguistic components of the source text and work with language in much the same way as a sculptor would work with raw stone, exploiting its malleability to produce the finished product.

Peter W. Vakunta: If I understand you well, a translator has to come up with a good balance between semantic equivalence and formal correspondence to ensure that readers of the target text react to the message in the same way as readers of the source text did. Is that right?
David T. Scheler: That would be the ultimate objective of the vast majority of translations. I’ve read some translations of French poems in English and said, oh my God! They just used the literal translation method here! I hope they didn’t put it through a computerized translator which, interestingly enough is a fun exercise for those that are hung to the lexical approach. Take a poem in English and translate it into French on a computer and then translate it into German and then translate the German back into English and see what kind of pot-pourri you get! That’s why I say it’s so important to balance the intent against the cultural, historical and aesthetic contexts. And that’s where the semantic becomes so important and the lexical becomes considerably less important.
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The Pragmatics of Poetic Translation: Interview With Poet-Translator, David T. Scheler - Part II

By Peter Vakunta

Peter W. Vakunta: How do you grapple with extra-linguistic factors that may influence your word choices?
David T. Scheler: Well, I think that in all communication among humans, be it within the same culture or across cultures, verbal communication is generally reinforced by the nonverbal. Body language such as facial expressions, gestures, gesticulations, etc. are vital components of verbalized discourse, though it takes words to create appropriate images intended to be expressed. I believe this holds true for poetic language. The task of the translator is to marry the linguistic and the extra-linguistic in translation. In fact, in translating one of the poems by Apollinaire where he did not use punctuation symbols at all, I had to read it aloud to myself to figure out where the natural commas, spacing, pauses, colons and semi-colons would be. Once I did that I was able to punctuate the poem in French as a reminder. Then I began to unroll and weave it in English. But, when you look at computer-assisted translations, you may find that this is a very premature cognitive neuroscience. There is a neuropsychologist named Steve Pinker who wrote a book titled How the Mind Works (1997). It is a wonderful read for linguists as well as behaviorists because it describes the complexity of our organic systems compared to the minuscule capabilities of computers.

Peter W. Vakunta: Talking about the mechanics of language use as you transition from French to English, do you view punctuation as an element capable of occasioning semantic loss?
David T. Scheler: I love punctuation! I look at it in much the way as I view musical notation. It gives me some hints on the tempo, speed, pauses, crescendos and decrescendos in the poem. I know that in much of contemporary American poetry it is recommended that capital letters should be omitted, articles minimized or eliminated and punctuation skipped. Personally, I think it’s a fad designed to create something that looks new and different. Punctuation marks are part of the writer’s toolbox and part of the language. Translators should use these tools! They are there! If you don’t need a punctuation mark, you wouldn’t use one, why would you omit one when it’s necessary? Again, as I said, I translated a French poem by Apollinaire without punctuation symbols. I did that because that’s what the artist did, not because that’s the way I would have done it. I had to respect the poet’s style. My job isn’t to alter or deface the source text.

Peter W. Vakunta: I’ve been wondering who your target readers are. Are you spurred by the profit motive to translate your poems into a language that’s not your mother tongue?
David T. Scheler: I’ll start with the question on my motivation. I don’t have any monetary or academic motivation for translating my poetry into French. I do it simply because I love the language. I recall that early on as a poet, a poet friend of mine once asked me why I had no publications. My response to her was: Well, I don’t have publications because I don’t submit my poems anywhere, so there’s a zero probability that I’d ever get published. And she said: well, you deserve to be published; you owe it to the world to publish your poems, they are beautiful! I said: well, there’s no money in it, so why go through the hassle of mailing, submitting, and receiving rejection or acceptance slips? I prefer to spend my time writing poetry for the sake of writing. And she asked me this question: do you have any idea how many beautiful paintings, poems, stories, pieces of music have been written and buried away and have never been made available to the public? These are just tossed away or lost with the person’s death? We owe it as artists to share what we have produced with the world for the sake of sharing. I said, well, I hadn’t really thought of it in that light. That’s how I started sending out my poems to publishers. I am proud to say that I have numerous poems published in journals in America today. I also have manuscripts circulating. That’s a lot of work but I’m certainly pleased that others have read the poems I’ve written. If I were in academia where you have to publish for the sake of credentials that would have been a different level of motivation. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in my case, I really don’t need those credentials; I just write for the love of it. I think my motivation is basically altruistic. I write in French because I love the sound of the language.

Peter W. Vakunta: So your targeted readership would be both Anglophone and Francophone?
David T. Scheler: I am yet to start submitting my work to publications of French expression. Now that I have over 130 of my poems translated into French, it is about time I started sending out manuscripts to French publishers, especially presses interested in bilingual publications. That would be my next quest once I get settled in on that. I have been working with published poets since 1999 and a lot of them are giving me incredibly useful advice on how to hone my skills in both languages. I have also been working with French professors and PhD candidates who have been helping me learn the language better, especially the grammar. Sometimes, you just can’t figure out the right word but through discourse and conversation with native speakers of the language, you gain a lot.

Peter W. Vakunta: How does it feel translating another person’s poetic work? Is it different than translating your own poems?
David T. Scheler: My primary objective has been to translate my own poems into French. It is only recently that I thought I could have some fun trying my hand at translating more French poems written by other poets into English. Interestingly, I was just reading a French poem and thought it would be lovely to have it in English. So, translating the works of other poets into English is certainly something I contemplate doing more frequently. I’m generally working on five or six of my own poems at once as I translate and reverse translate them. Occasionally, my Muse takes off with another man, and I have to wait until she returns! Translating other people’s poems could be a useful way of whiling away time as I await the return of my Muse.

Peter W. Vakunta: I guess it is hard for someone to do an objective self-evaluation but I was wondering, how successful you think you’ve been as a literary translator?
David T. Scheler: I do believe that success, like language, is an organic and growing process. The more I work on new things, the easier and more delicious the results become. I have been going back to some of my earlier poems and making alterations I deem necessary to improve on their quality. On the other hand, I have gone back and looked at some of my writings and just had a big smile at the results. My feeling is that ultimately, a poem or any other work of art is never really done because there are always things to add or delete. You don’t really finish a poem; it finishes itself or you surrender to it. I am very pleased with what I’ve accomplished so far. I learn every day. Continuous learning re-wires my brain. I view translation as a continuum. What the translator actually does is transpose hunches, sensibilities, sensations, and worldviews from one language to the other. Moving from the conception of an idea to its verbal delivery in one language or the other is a continuous process.

Peter W. Vakunta: We are going to round off this interview on a didactic note. I know that budding translators and writers of poetry are listening to you. Do you have a final word for those who may be venturing into the domain of poetic translation?
David T. Scheler:I guess my first thought would be to urge novice translators to look at two different things: if you are translating your own work, a good exercise would be to turn your edited and polished poems into a piece of prose to see if you understand what it means. If you are translating another person’s work, I would say context is of critical importance. With some poems, particularly those that may be difficult to decipher, it would be necessary to translate them directly and then try and intuit the meaning from the context. You then want to edit and turn your literal translation into a meaningful piece of verbal art. Again, some poems require much greater semantic interpretation; while others are indescribably easier to discern when they have a greater reliance on the lexical. Translation calls for a judicious balancing of different aspects of language. Use the dictionary to find the best expression. Use the thesaurus to find a better word. Use your imagination, your own vocabulary and language skills. Don’t just grab what is convenient. So, to beginning translators and poets, I’d recommend the adoption of a good tactical approach to arrive at a strategic objective.

Peter W. Vakunta: The excerpt below is a sample of David T. Scheler’s translation.

Between evening and distance

there is a remote place
where Prussian blue
slurs into a fine line of ochre.
That space between
dog and wolf
where day
folds itself back into night,
swallows all shadow––
thought becomes sensation
and sleep devours dream
in a vertiginous tumble
dream swallows sensation,
shadow devours sleep
and night
folds back into itself.
Between day and evening,
dog and wolf slur
into a fine line of ochre
where Prussian blue
is a remote place
between distance and evening.
(This poem was first published in (Comstock Review, Summer 2006, p. 67)

Entre la soirée et la distance

il y a un endroit reculé
où le bleu de Prusse
lie une ligne fine d’ocre.
Cet espace,
entre chien et loup
où la journée se replie
sur la nuit,
avale toutes les ombres ––
où la pensée devient la sensation
et le sommeil dévore les rêves

dans une reculade vertigineuse
les rêves avalent la sensation,
l’ombre dévore le sommeil
et la nuit
se replie sur elle-même.
Entre la journée et la soirée,
le chien et le loup lient
une ligne fine d’ocre
où le bleu de Prusse
est un endroit reculé
entre la distance et la soirée.
entre la distance et la soirée.

 The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2009. All Rights Reserved




Legalese as a new literary canon in African Fiction

Sun_by_night An interview with Benjamin Kwakye, Author of The Sun by Night
Interviewed By Peter W. Vakunta

Award-winning novelist,
Benjamin Kwakye
, made his literary debut with the publication of The Sun by Night (2006), which has been adapted for radio by a BBC Play of the week. This was followed by another beautifully crafted novel, The Clothes of Nakedness (2008) which earned him the Afrique Newsmagazine WEB DuBois Award for Literature. In the interview that follows Kwakye sheds light on some of the attributes that make him distinct from other fiction writers.
Vakunta: A reading of The Sun by Night leaves one with the impression that the novelist is talking over the heads of readers on account of the preponderance of legal jargon in the narrative. Why did you choose to infuse your novel with legalese?
Kwakye: I admit that the novel involves a lengthy trial and that there is a fair amount of legalese in those parts. I submit, however, that the portions of the novel that may go over the heads of certain readers are not those containing legalese, but those infused with one particular character’s penchant for bombast. This is not gratuitous, though. The key question that begs asking is why the prosecutor speaks in such bombastic language to the admiration of a number of people. Is there something about things we don’t understand or things that appear “foreign” that make us admire them? Are there cross sections of Ghanaian or even African communities susceptible to manipulation due to this kind of phenomenon. It’s not only language. For example, it’s not hard to find those who will reject locally made products in favor of “foreign” ones, without regard to quality. These are issues in The Sun by Night that may not sit well with readers who are not familiar with the state of things in Ghana or Africa in general.

Vakunta: I totally agree. The question of transgender, for example, is is broached in your novel through Kubi's experimentation with cross-dressing but was never fully explained. What’s the implication of your muteness over this issue?
Kwakye: I prefer to leave the reader room to draw his or her own conclusions. There are readers who will read the cross dressing literally. Others might choose to interpret it metaphorically. If it’s a metaphor, then what does it mean? In fact, you find some form of dualism in many of the novel’s characters. In many instances, the private and public selves are very different. What does it mean? Is it speaking to Africa’s dual or conflicting identities? The choice is up to the reader.

Vakunta: So far we have seen African writers resort to social commentaries set in the colonial era and even in postcolonial societies as a strategy for deconstructing imperialistic hegemonies in Africa. What gave you the idea to create your own social commentary in the format of a court case in The Sun by Night?
Kwakye: The court case serves as a platform for exploring larger societal themes. Perhaps as a lawyer, I find the context of the law and legal battles fascinating. It oftentimes becomes a microcosm of issues playing out in contemporary society. The courtroom just gives it a specific location for frontal interaction and the articulation of positions. And, as in society at large, justice does not always prevail and the truth does not always carry the day. In other words, a courtroom provides a great spectacle to appreciate societal conflicts.

Vakunta: Being Ghanaian and using Ghana as the setting of your novel, one would have expected you to portray a typical Ghanaian legal system in your novel. Instead, what you present the reader with is a legal system that resembles American and British common law practices? Why did you do this?
Kwakye: This is a reflection of forces that impact the modern Ghanaian society. There is no denying the fact that European and American cultures have greatly impacted Ghana, first while the country was a British colony and then simply by the force of American influence in more recent times. Yes, a typical Ghanaian court today is more likely going to resemble the British legal system; however, with some artistic license, I wove in American procedures in acknowledgment of this influence on the society at large, be it good or bad.

Vakunta: There are many instances in your novel where characters are heard communicating with their forebears (ancestors). What role does magical realism play in your prose narrative? Is it magical realism at all?
Kwakye: I think “magical realism” is a tricky term. Many African societies have believed in a connection with ancestors, reflected in acts such as pouring libation and the like. As products of their cultures, these characters carry some of these beliefs, notwithstanding other foreign influences. For want of a better term, let’s accept this as a form of magical realism, at least as reflected in literature. In that sense, such magical realism is an acknowledgment of cultural beliefs, of the dead affecting the living, which is simply elevated to the status of dialogue in The Sun by Night.

Vakunta: The denouement of The Sun by Night is truly intriguing. Why did you choose the ending you did for your novel? In a more traditional setting, the family would have tried to cover up the murder committed by their son. Don’t you think so?
Kwakye: I thought so initially. However, upon further reflection, I’m not sure they would have covered it up so much as tried to settle it without resorting to public forms of adjudication. I think the act that Koo Manu took at the end of the novel speaks to a certain underlying decency, despite his own flaws. This decency would have played out in a similar manner, regardless of the context. The modern courtroom, a reflection of changes from traditional forms of adjudication, simply gave him an avenue to express his propriety. I do agree that it may not have reached the public forum in a more traditional setting as the families would probably have tried to settle it privately. That failing, they would have resorted to some form of public adjudication, albeit in a traditional setting.

Vakunta: Your use of language in this novel raises eyebrows as well. Linguistic manipulation in The Sun by Night involves code-switching, alternation between Standard English, Pidgin and vernacular language lexes. What’s the significance of language mixing as a medium of communication in your novel? Could this stylistic choice constitute a hindrance to a monolingual reader?
Kwakye: The main characters in the novel take turns narrating portions of the novel. Each narrator speaks in his or her own unique voice. The mixture of Standard English, pidgin and local languages reflects the way many speak in Ghana today. On the streets of Accra, this interplay is very much alive. I think the narrators would have come across as inauthentic if they all sounded alike. I think readers, even monolingual ones, would appreciate this linguistic diversity and the vibrancy of multiple narrative voices in the novel.

Vakunta: The Sun by Night seems to be strongly influenced by the oral traditions of your people. The novel starts with a riddle: “So who am I”? The title of the text itself is riddle-like, and sets up an atmosphere of puzzle-solving and investigation that you probably want your readers to approach the book with. What are the implications of transitioning from orality to the written word in your narrative?
Kwakye: It’s exciting but it’s also challenging and I think various writers achieve varying degrees of success in transitioning from the spoken to the written word. At its best, the mind’s ear experiences the story as though listening to a storyteller, the reader becomes intimately involved in the story, the story’s sounds and smells take over, and the page becomes almost invisible. I am not sure I was able to achieve this in The Sun by Night, but I know Achebe did in Things Fall Apart (1958).
Vakunta: What literary theories undergird your creative writing enterprise as a whole? I am referring to theoretical frameworks such as structuralism, post-structuralism, genetic post-structuralism, postcolonialism, postmodernism, resistance, etc?

Kwakye: I think most readers would refer to my literary works as belonging in the domain of postcolonial literature. Perhaps, there are some elements of post-structuralism and postmodernism in them as well. Generally, I do not find it necessary to categorize my works by putting them in those theoretical contexts. I leave the task to my readers.

Vakunta: If you were to re-write The Sun by Night today, what would you like to change about major characters like Koo Manu, Kubi, Madam Beatrice and Colonel Duah?
Kwakye: I wouldn’t change anything about the major characters if I wrote the novel today and set it in the same era, except perhaps some refinement that comes from my own maturity. However, if I were to set the novel in more recent times, I think Koo Manu would have been perhaps a bit more independent and not beholden so much to the pulls of tradition and Colonel Duah would perhaps be a bit more circumspect, given that Ghana is under constitutional rule at present. The other characters wouldn’t change so much but they would be reacting to different circumstances.

Vakunta: We are going to round off this interview on a didactic note. Do you have a final word for budding writers who may be venturing into the domain of novelistic writing?
Kwakye: I am sure budding writers have heard it repeated over and over again that there is no better way to improve one’s writing than to read as much as possible and write as often as one possibly can. Above all things, they should write because they love to write. They should not make financial gain or any other pecuniary rewards the basis of their writing. Otherwise, they may never manage to withstand the setbacks, which will most likely come. Even some of the most accomplished writers face rejections and other setbacks. Learn to persevere. Persevere. Persevere. Persevere. If you love writing, you will persevere.

Vakunta: The passage below is an excerpt culled from Benjamin Kwakye’s award-winning novel The Sun by Night:
The prosecutor, in a confident manner of the pastor that he is [sic], walked slowly to the witness. He stopped momentarily to survey the jurors before facing the witness. “Madam Beatrice, would you bestow on us for informational purposes the non-ambulatory geographic site of your habitual domicile?” Lawyer Amoah began.
“Pardon me?”
“Where is the territorial situs of your physical habitation?”
“I am sorry I don’t understand you, sir,” Madam Beatrice said, her frown
betraying her confusion.
Justice Ocloo asked the prosecutor to rephrase the question so the witness would understand.
“Where is the locative presence of your habitual abode?”
Justice Ocloo shook her head, as though in disapproval of the prosecutor. She explained to Madam Beatrice:
“Where do you live?”
The justice asked Prosecutor Amoah if that was what he meant. He said it was. After Madam Beatrice gave the information, the prosecutor continued:
“And could you expatiate on the intervening proximate relation of the two dwellings, yours and the victim’s?”
After Justice Ocloo explained, Madam Beatrice said:
“Her house was next to mine. I rented it to her.”
“Accord then, of your familiar acquaintance with the victim?”
Justice Ocloo:
“Do you agree, Madam Beatrice, that you knew the victim?”
“I knew her very well,” said Madam Beatrice.
“We were neighbors and I was her landlady” (pp 240-241).
© The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2010. All Rights Reserved

The Ramifications of Linguistic Innovation in African Literature: An Interview with Patrice Nganang

Peter Wuteh Vakunta

A versatile award-winning novelist, Patrice Nganang has written works that have left an indelible mark on the international literary landscape. With the publication of Temps de chien (2001), a novel that was recognized with two noteworthy awards—the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize and the Grand Prix de la littérature de l’Afrique Noire—he emerged as a writer noted for his innovative use of the French language. In the interview that follows Nganang sheds light on some of the attributes that make him tick as a creative writer.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: What motivates you to write the way you do?
Patrice Nganang: What compels me to write is the feeling that the complexity of an African life has not been told yet, and the conviction that if we do not tell our stories ourselves, then we should not complain if others speak for us. I am convinced that African stories are just beginning to be told, particularly on the African continent. But I also think that when African stories have been told out of the continent, in general, their richness which lies in their complexity has often been removed and it has given way to flat narratives. Yet, African lives are complex. The national conferences of the nineties constitute one of those moments when Africans actually started to tell their stories, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, and post-genocide gacacas of Rwanda too. Newspapers are also ways through which our stories are told. For me literature is part of a general drive to tell our story. Remember that all Africans of my age actually grew up in societies where speech was contentious, and sometimes even deadly. Thus, it is obvious that our stories still truly need to be told today.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: You seem to put a premium on linguistic innovation in your novels. Is it an act of literary subversion or an expression of discomfort with the language of the ex-colonizer?
Patrice Nganang: It is simply a reflection of the way I speak as a Cameroonian, and therefore, of the country I come from. I naturally move from Medumba, to French, to German and to English on a constant basis. Yet, when we look at it closely, it simply reflects Cameroon’s historical condition, our country’s move from its more than two hundred Cameroonian languages, first into German colonialism, and then into the French and British mandates. It is impossible to tell the Cameroonian story in a single language, be it Medumba or French for that matter, without doing injustice to the complexity of Cameroonian lives. It is equally impossible to say that a Cameroonian is a Francophone without falsifying Cameroonian history. For me, history and language are simply matters of fact.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: After reading your novels, one is tempted to draw the conclusion that you have a predilection for code-switching as a creative writing device. What are your motivations for having recourse to this technique?
Patrice Nganang: Most Cameroonians are multilingual, and I am no exception. I employ four languages in my daily interactions. Most Cameroonians are also accustomed to moving from one language to the other, sometimes in one single sentence. As a matter of fact, the majority of Cameroonians grew up in multilingual communities. As a writer whose desire is to tell the Cameroonian story in its very complexity, the most challenging task for me is, indeed, to capture Cameroon’s casual way of dealing with languages, our ‘décomplexé’ manner of communicating with one another. An impossible task, if there is one, for literature is by definition monolingual, but a challenge for any Cameroonian writer, I think, which reflects the daily challenge of any Cameroonian.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: Literary critics have contended that readers must be both bilingual and bicultural in order to grasp the full essence of the message intended in your novels. What’s your take on this?
Patrice Nganang: The issue is not bilingualism, I think, but multilingualism. The basic problem confronting any Cameroonian writer is that at its very origins, the multilingual character of our social reality and literature stands at odds with the monolingual reality of our critics. The birth of Cameroonian literature is marked by the publication in 1921 of the book titled Sanga’am, ou Histoire et Coutume des Bamoun, by Sultan Njoya. Njoya was the first Cameroonian writer to struggle with the issue of language. He tried to create, not only a script, but also a language that would bring the multiple languages spoken around him together. He succeeded in creating both, but of course both were banned by the French colonial authorities, who imposed the monolingual tradition of French letters upon us. Today, the Cameroonian writer still faces the problem Njoya wanted to solve: how do you create letters that will reflect the complex nature of our world? Is a critic who reads Cameroonian literature through the prism of ‘francophone studies’ for instance, not repeating the gesture of that colonial officer, Carde, who forestalled Sultan Njoya’s linguistic innovation?

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: How would you describe the type of French you write in your novels in relation to standard French? Africanized French? De-Europeanized French or a third code?
Patrice Nganang: I do not describe the language I use. I simply use it. The biggest mistake made in literary criticism today, and this is attributable to advocates of a return to African languages in writing African literature—Obi Wali, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Boris Diop— is to imagine that creative writing entails a face-to-face confrontation between African languages on the one hand, and European languages on the other. For Cameroonians this cannot be the case, because in a city like Yaoundé where the predominant language is French, there is a congregation of more than two hundred non-European languages spoken in the country. In my novels and in my other fictional writings, Yaoundé is the setting of my storytelling. How can I imagine that in this multilingual city, in this city where most people shift from one language to the other, and in this city where neighborhoods are organized along ethnic lines, there should only be a tandem between French and Cameroonian languages?

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: Do you consciously think of attaining cultural syncretism in your fiction writing?
Patrice Nganang: I would be very happy if a reader would, at the end of my novel, understand that the predicament of African existence cannot be subsumed in the mere concept of duality, say, between Europe and Africa, tradition and modernity, dictatorship and freedom, or something along those lines. The complexity of our lives is exactly what makes all of us humans in the first place, and as far as I am concerned, humanity is still something worth struggling for.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: Code-switching in Temps de chien involves alternating between Metropolitan French, Camfranglais, Pidgin English and vernacular tongues. Could this constitute an obstacle for a reader not familiar with these local languages?
Patrice Nganang: No, it has not been so far.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: A translator unfamiliar with the cultural specificities of your works may draw a blank. What would you recommend as a working strategy for your translators?
Patrice Nganang: Most translators of my texts have worked with me, and indeed, I think that translators would gain a lot if they worked with the writers whose works they translate. There are visions of a translator whose freedom is attained by the death of the writer, of the translator who is a writer too, and of the text that is untranslatable. I tend to have the simple habit of most Cameroonians who look at language as a tool, and I therefore tend to be very ‘décomplexé’, if I may say, in front of language. For a writer, language is just a tool.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: How much of Cameroonian socio-political reality is reflected in your fictional works?
Patrice Nganang: My work is rooted in Cameroonian realities, breathes from Cameroonian realities; it is a reflection of Cameroonian realities. One critic once challenged one of my novels, and took it along to the neighborhood it represents, to see if my geographic representation was accurate. The novel passed the test. At the same time, my novels are rooted in the very complex live I have lived so far, first in Cameroon, then in Germany and now in the United States. I wrote the novel the critic challenged, Dog Days, while living in Germany, and actually spent hours observing dogs to be able to portray their movements accurately. Yet, the idea of writing this novel occurred to me while I was roaming the streets of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. During my readings in the United States, it always happened that somebody would say that s/he identified with the dog described in my novel, and that the dog could be an American dog.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: It appears there is a transition from orality to the written word in your novels. How do you achieve this?
Patrice Nganang: Orality is central to my work because I started serious writing during the time of national conferences, when people were actually dying in the streets for the sake of freedom of speech. That was the time when we had a boom of private radios, and people were yearning for their stories to be heard. Thus, orality is essential to me, given that it is linked to the desire people had, and still have, I believe, to have the full range of their existential stories told. Not only their suffering, not only their successes, but the complexity of their struggles in life. I think most people felt that their lives were not accurately depicted in the official governmental news outlets we had back then, very much the way Africans feel today, that our lives are not accurately represented in Western news media. Back in the nineties as well as now, there is a strong need to have the broad spectrum of our voices heard. My literature is an attempt to translate this need into writing.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: In Temps de chien, your protagonist is a dog. How important is animal characterization to you as a writer?
Patrice Nganang: It is essential because a dog is not only a narrative tool; it represents the absence of a human voice. I don’t think most of us would be happy to hear what dogs actually say or think about us, and yet, literature since the time of Ancient Greeks has always fantasized on the talk of animals. It has also always fantasized on the talk of women, before women started to write, and about Africans, before Africans took the pen to tell their own stories. This is also true for fairy tales. The perspective of an animal character is a very interesting one indeed; it is the position from where an untold story is born. It is the vantage point where a new voice is heard.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: You seem to have no qualms about transposing Cameroonian indigenous languages into works written in French. Is literary indigenization your ultimate goal?
Patrice Nganang: No, because I do not think about myself as an ‘indigene’. My father was an ‘indigene’ because he was born during the colonial era. I was born in an independent country. I am, therefore, a citizen, and in African history, I belong to the first generation whose political definition is citizenship. It would be strange, indeed, to think of American writers of the 18th Century who wrote in English in terms of ‘indigenization’, yet, what American writers like Thoreau or Emerson or Douglass did with the English language is a story worth reading and rereading.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: Would you say you’ve been successful in your attempt to decolonize the African novel?
Patrice Nganang: The novel as a genre has a very long history, and that history is not only colonial, given the fact that Apuleus, who wrote the Golden Ass in Latin, was an African and a citizen of Rome. The question is, therefore, not one of decolonization, but one of truth: how can you truthfully tell the story of your world. How can you tell that story in a way that makes it impossible for anybody who reads it to be surprised when something happens on the African continent? A fundamental question, indeed, for it raises awareness to the fact that the novel itself is rooted in fiction, and that the writer has at his or her disposal only the twenty-six letters of the Latin alphabet to tell a story. My quest as a writer is, with one single story, to do justice to the millions of stories I know are circulating around me.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: In your view, is the language question in African literature a reality or a red herring?
Patrice Nganang: It is an important question, but it is always raised from the wrong angle. It is worth coming back to Njoya here because he addresses that question in a more complex manner than all our language theorists of today, since for him language involves writing systems too. This is the reason why he spent his life perfecting alphabets. Yet, when the issue of language is raised today, the alphabet question is taken for granted, and we have Ngugi and Diop writing their books in their mother tongues, using the Latin alphabet, while at the same time agitating the flag of nationalism!

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: Do you envisage a significant impact of the Africanization of French on future generations of Francophone African writers?
Patrice Nganang: The sad intellectual legacy of colonialism is that it reduced the truly immense dimension of our imagination, and limited it to the realm of a fight with a singular language, say French, which happens to have gone through its own process of jacobinization. As an African writer I could simply say today, as Achebe did in 1952 for English, some twenty years before I was born: ‘finished, French is an African language.’ Would it have taken us further–I mean intellectually? The beauty of literature is that it only asks for an empty piece of paper where we can challenge our own intelligence, and show our skills in front of the sagacity of our complex world. The question of language is never resolved and will never be, for history is open-ended, and language is the only tool a writer has. Apuleus, the African, wrote in Latin with success in Rome, but Dante who came some hundreds of years after him did not. Easy formulas are certainly not a way out, but the quest for truth. And truth can be told in any language.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: We are going to round off this interview on a didactic note. I know that budding writers are listening to you. Do you have a final word for those who may be venturing into the domain of creative writing?
Patrice Nganang: The quest is endless, but it is an advantage to be born later. Today’s African writers are blessed because many of the problems we face were already solved before us. We don’t have to fight the battles already fought by our parents and grand-parents. It lifts my spirit to know this, and it frees my tongue to tackle the really complex issues in the stories I still have to tell. I wake up every morning smiling.

Peter Wuteh Vakunta: The excerpt below is a passage from Nganang’s award-winning novel Temps de chien and its English language translation Dog Days:
Regardez-moi un énergumène comme ça qui vient dans un bar comme celui-ci où les gens me respectent dire que c’est lui qui me gère, anti zamba ouam! Il ose même dire qu’il voulait m’épouser. Dites-moi vraiment, vous qui me connaissez: est-ce que je mérite un têtard comme ça? […].Vraaaiiiiment, même les cauchemars ont des limites. Moi la femme de ce cancrelat-ci! (Temps de chien , 66)

[But the rest of you, just look at this raving lunatic, who comes into a bar like this where people respect me and says that he is keeping me, anti zamba ouam! He even dares to say he wants to marry me. Take a look at Mini Minor’s husband. Now tell me, you all who know me: do I deserve a polliwog like that? […]. Reeeeally, even nightmares have limits! Me, the wife of this cockroach!] (Dog Days, 44)