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“Reptilian asses” are declassed and amorphous men who spend their days commenting on everything and nothing, lying on mats, on the edge of the streets of popular African neighborhoods. It is precisely these anti-heroes that the Chadian director and writer Mahamat-Saleh Haroun chose to stage in his second novel. “Strange spectators of their own livesHe wrote, they observe the world as if they are not part of it. »
The story begins in Thorodon, a Parian suburb of a nameless city where all the troubles of the world are concentrated. From power outages to water cuts, health problems, school dropouts, ethnic discrimination and widespread unemployment, Thorodona symbolizes the sheer sloppiness of a fraudulent yet all-powerful state.
Even when the population of the area, driven to despair, peacefully demonstrates to attract the attention of the authorities, the latter forcefully suppress the protests. A donut vendor is beaten up and then thrown into jail for simply joking in public. “In a normal country… But we are not in a normal country, you know yourself, boy, comments in his heart Burma Cabo, the protagonist.
Tired of fighting, the latter decides to leave his family to try his luck in the capital. After a period of inactivity, a glimmer of hope finally lights up when he enrolls in the National Swimming Federation. To breathe new life into its suffocating economy, the state has indeed devised a way to arouse the curiosity of tourists and the interest of the international community. “It is generally known that Africans participate in foot races. But in swimming, no one expects to see an African. We will bring a huge surprise by winning a medal at the Olympics.” – calmly explains the adviser to the president.
Thus, the new federation was faced with the difficult task of going to Australia in order to accomplish a real Olympic feat in a few months. The plan seems perfect, except for two things: Burma is the only member of the swim team, and worse, he can barely swim. Some will remember, reading Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the career of Eric Moussambani, the Equatorial Guinean swimmer who excelled at the 2000 Sydney Games in the 100m freestyle, as dirty as it was heroic.
Whatever the hesitation of Burma, he is made to understand with the greatest firmness that state reason prevails. So the future champion spares no effort: regular training, prayers, fetishes. Besides, whatever he did to earn his living and save his fiancée Zirega, who was kidnapped by henchmen to talk him out of turning himself in.
Love, fame, beauty, dreams and disappointments… all these elements are brought together in the book by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. As a director, the author packs his novel like a good script, multiplying action and twists, seasoning it all with sex scenes, just like in a real “Nollywood” production. But as an observer of modern Africa, he falls into a bitter farce: the farce of a man striving to fulfill his destiny, but found himself hostage to interests that go beyond his limits.
Failed states symbol
The country without a name, which Harun depicts, symbolizes all the failed states of the continent, accustomed to short-sighted prospects, ruled with military power, and where they like to appoint rubbish heroes, even if it means yelling after that. During the press conference leading up to the Olympics, didn’t Burma himself come to terms with rewriting his life path to fit the rules of storytelling?
Public Relations Officer “gives him a file containing his brand new personality, his backstory and detailed pedigree. Where he learns that he is no longer 25 years old, as his documents properly attest, but 20. He did not drop out of high school after missing his bachelor’s degree several times, but has a bachelor’s degree in science from Belgium. Well, it’s a joke! “no one will check”she reassures him. »
Behind the sarcastic humor of the situations lies a deep pessimism that darkens the background of this novel and makes people forgive the occasional touch of writing a little light. On the other side of the world, they applaud like a hero, and upon his return they despise him. Burma will finally win the most important of medals: a medal for daring to go beyond everyday life in a country that at all times resembles a fairy tale. Devoid of morality.
reptilian ass, a novel by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Sat. “Black Continents”, ed. Gallimard, 240 pages, 19 euros.