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The most secret memory of men - Mohamed Mbougar Sarr (September 2023)

Translation of the article by Marc Alexandre Oho Bambé by Karen Ferreira-Meyers

Translation of the article by Marc Alexandre Oho Bambé by Karen Ferreira-Meyers

The most secret memory of men, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr
Tranlated by Lara Vergnaud for Other Press, 26 September 2023

Traduction anglaise de Karen Ferreira-Meyers de l’article original en français de Marc Alexandre Oho Bambé.

Note from Chroniques littéraires africaines: Cameroonian writer Marc Alexandre Oho Bambé shared his reading of Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s novel La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (ed. Philippe Rey / Jimsaan). He authorised us to publish his thoughts on a complex, powerful and difficult to analyse novel. What better than an author’s to narrate the novel? Enjoy your reading.

What is La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (The most secret memory of men) all about?

Nothing. One is tempted to answer this question as the translator, one of the characters in Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s dazzling novel, would surely do.

And we would be right to answer thus, « nothing”.
A big nothing, as big as the whole…

La plus secrète mémoire des hommes talks of nothing, but says everything.
Everything about what the author is, and everything about what he is not.
About what literature is, and what it is not.
About the power of words, and about their impotence.

About the real in the imaginary, and the imaginary in the real.

The novel talks of life and writing, bound and inalienable, writing and life, in their interstices of shadow and light.

Sarr’s latest novel is a labyrinth into which one enters, and from which one emerges, if one emerges, dazed and trembling, with the deep feeling that something has moved inside, the labyrinth has entered us.

So we leave or set off again, in our own footsteps, in search of our question, our primordial question. And even when we think we know it, and even when we are certain of it, we ask it again, to be sure, not of the answer, which does not exist – perhaps – but of the question itself, the existential question, the question at the foundation of our being.

I have just finished Mbougar Sarr’s prodigious text for the second time.
In the next room, Aaliyah sings, Age ain’t nothing but a number.
I smile.
She is so right.
Aged 31, Mohamed is tall, very tall.
And his love for literature is even greater.
It’s a safe bet that literature will return his favour.

In fact, she is already doing that, celebrating his achievements.

Since his first writings, La cale, Terre ceinte, Silence du chœur, De purs hommes, literary critics agree, recognitions abounds and his talent of exceptional storyteller continues to be highlighted.

La plus secrète mémoire des hommes is, let’s not shy away from using this expression, a masterpiece. Of literary erudition. Of intelligence too, and of nuance that represents the text’s luxury.

It is one of those works that you don’t just read, it also reads you, by which I mean that it reads your inner thoughts, takes up residence in you for a time, you know it, feel it, its heartbeat doesn’t lie.

The words flow, are fluid, deep, dazzling sparks.

Sarr does not watch himself write, he writes. Just. And touches the soul.

The story he tells of Diegane Latyr Faye’s literary investigation and a quest for his self, this young Senegalese writer on the trail of T.C. Elimane, a cursed author who disappeared after being praised and then crucified by the critics, is absolutely sublime.

French publisher coverpage

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr has written a universal book, crossing continents, eras and genres, a “world-book” that is at once an essay, a detective story, an initiation novel, and a diary of human vertigo. From the very first pages, we are drawn in by the rhythm of the text and the direction the story takes. We never lose our way in the 458 pages of this fabulous prose journey through space and time, and above all into the heart of the elusive, opaque human condition. Diégane’s investigation and quest has us follow Elimane’s footsteps and those of the narrator himself, in the Sérère country, Sine Saloum, the motherland of the young investigator, and of his illustrious predecessor and ghost pursued in Argentina, France, the Netherlands, Senegal…

We find ourselves in the middle of the Second World War in Europe and civic activism in Africa, we read Wolof, we laugh at the Jewish witticism, before coming close to the Nazi horror and observing  the revolt of young militants of today’s Teranga against the current power. We vibrate with Latyr Faye and Madag, the Ellenstein couple, Mossane and the Koumakh twins, Musimbwa and Béatrice Nanga, Aida and Siga, we make love, we use humour and form friendships, we reflect on commitment and exile. We advance in history, unless it is history that advances in us, without ever straying or distancing us from literature, yes literature itself, literature, of which Sarr is a marvellous ferryman, making you want to read or reread Yambo Ouologuem, Roberto Bolaño, Ken Bugul, and others, in the light of his book, which enchants us with literature, literature without borders, literature, a world apart, a whole world, literature, through questions without answers, answers without questions.

Literature as life.

Mbougar writes like he breathes, and perhaps he also writes to breathe, I seriously wondered about this while reading the book. I still wonder today.

The Labyrinth entered me.

The last sentence of the novel pierces my heart. I continue to smile and thank the author, dieuredieuf, na som jita, for the tightrope I walked on, suspended in time.

And the horizon wide open as only great works can bring out, literary texts that are eternal.

P.S.: La plus secrète mémoire des hommes is a co-publication of Jimsaan (Senegal) and Philippe Rey (France). There is a link here.

I wish to highlight several links: the cooperation of intelligent minds, the North-South dialogue, the creation of a common ground. This is also to be welcomed, because this is what it is all about: reinventing ourselves, perhaps. Reinventing everything. Together.

One Love !!!

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