Diadié Dembélé, for the love of language – Jeune Afrique

With “Le Duel des grands-mères”, the young Malian writer delivers a first novel full of humor, rich and musical.

Sazike ! The interjection that goes again Grandmothers’ duel, is perhaps the word that best expresses the enthusiasm aroused by reading Diadié Dembélé’s first novel. The ingenuity of the language, its musicality, its richness, its humor immediately places the young Malian writer born in Kodié among the writers to be followed. This corrosive cocktail gives a devastating breath to the narrative.

Sent back to the village

Hamet, a boy from Bamako, never stops looking for his place. At home, he is the subject of a fight between his father, who forces him to go to school, and his mother, who tears up his notebooks. In class, he expresses himself in an overly intense register. Or, as he puts it: “I like to show that I know I have learned French well, very well, the very heavy French of the great professors of literature from the Grandes and Hautes Ecoles who eat instead of to eat, and what do I say instead of making mistakes.The only school where the rebellious young man feels in his place is pranking.But he gets knocked down on the side roads he takes more and more often, and after one too many fights his father decides that he should be sent back to the village.

This punishment also hovered over the head of Diadié Dembélé, a child: “There was always the threat of sending me either to a boarding school or to the village, or, what we had imagined worse, to a school. Military. These were places where “I could be corrected for various reasons. I imagined that one of them had been carried out: if my parents had sent me to the village because I began to deviate from the straight path.”

You do not live, you are in a city where there is nothing. In the village there is this and that

The first judgment of Hamet is without appeal: “These days frighten me. This wind attacks me. The cries of the animals irritate me. This village detests me. Taboussi, the child of the city, must integrate the codes of this microcosm. To marry the appearance of his protagonist Diadié Dembélé relied on her own experience: “In 2008, at the age of 11, I traveled to my village in painful circumstances: my grandmother was ill. I was told so much about this magnificent village. Every time a cousin came, he mocked me: “You do not live, you are in a city where there is nothing. In the village there is this and that. ” I was fascinated. When my grandmother got sick, I decided to go with my mother. I lived a bit like Hamet, quite naively, believing that I was essential to working in the fields when I was not doing anything difficult. »

funny observer

Pampered by his grandmother, Hamet is actually relieved of the most painful tasks. The boy is a funny observer of traditions and popular quarrels. His journey beyond boredom gradually becomes a search for origin. The stubborn man who pretended to spill the millet paste and okrasovse not to eat this “gloubi-boulga” as he put it, ends up enjoying it. Reconnected with custom, he proudly mingles with the fishermen: “I really like the landscape. My grandparents’ generation lived off the land. Their money was only used to pay state taxes, the rest was hidden under the mat. All wealth came down to the harvest “A good season, and they were rich, a bad one, and one had to be careful. This fascination with rural areas has nourished my history.”

Among the village codes is the ban on speaking bambara. You should only express yourself in Soninke. In school, these two languages ​​are banned in favor of French. Language is the core of Hamet’s quest, he who affirms: “I will find my language again. “It is also central to Diadié Dembélé’s literary project:” I decided to restore the language of my non-French-speaking characters in French, it is something that came close to the Malinkisation of Ahmadou Kourouma. My idea is not to write in French, but to think of Soninke or Bambara and then recreate the meaning. I would, in turn, talk about soninization or bambarization. »

This choice was built gradually: “In the beginning I had a Balzacian style with lots of descriptions, details. Then something clicked:” That was when I worked as an interpreter with migrants. In my dreams my mother sometimes spoke French, she who did not “This language is born out of my own contradictions. I can not imagine the character of Hamet’s mother speaking directly in French, it would have been very artificial.”

People who speak several languages ​​are always suspected of preferring one over the other.

Mixing languages ​​in writing and merging them with style is a successful bet. What the text manages to accomplish is not always obvious in life: “People who speak several languages ​​are always suspected of preferring one over the other or, finally, of forgetting the parenting language. The real barrier lies in the use of French: “It remains the language of the elite, the language we are obliged to speak in school, that we speak on television, even if it changes because there are private channels that use local languages This creates a boundary between the bourgeoisie and the popular class. “

Originally love teenage

The language also played a crucial role in Diadié Dembélé’s literary career: “After my arrival in France, I realized that there were a lot of things I had not solved with French that I had learned in Mali. I spoke a strong language with everyone, like Hamet. People asked me, ‘Why are you talking like that?’ I would say, ‘That’s the way to talk.’ Every time I was taken back, I was in denial. ‘ in pursuit of a master’s degree in literary creation in Paris 8, where I had signed up to embark on a novel project, the same remarks were made to me.I stopped sticking my head in the sand to address this question. it was born Grandmothers’ duel. »

Writing did not come spontaneously to the Malian writer: “I had a very religious relationship with texts, one of the first I read was the Koran. We learn that religious texts are the first and the last. For me, the text was already written, we could not oblige others. Then there was the discovery of Aimé Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, Seydou Badian Kouyaté … An inspiration but also an obstacle: “I said to myself that after them we could not produce other books. I understood when I was 15 that you could still become a writer. “

Before that, the young man had started writing poetry for a very specific reason: “Teenage love means that you have to prove to your girlfriend that you are a poet who says beautiful words. Since I did not have the money to go to the internet cafe and copy quotes, I had to write something from the heart. That was when I came to something other than my schoolwork. Diadié Dembélé, also known as Tembarema, published a first collection of poems in 2019, The royal braids.

“The Grandmothers’ Duel”, by Diadié Dembélé, was published on January 5, 2022. © Éditions Lattès

If Diadié Dembélé admits to being pessimistic about the situation in the world, between the war in his country, Mali, the one raging in Ukraine and the presidential election in France, the author is promised such a royal future than the braids that gave title to his collection . We have insisted a lot on the style, dazzling, it is at the service of a search for origin, which gives it its whole meaning and sublimates it. samprain !

Grandmothers’ duelby Diadié Dembélé, Jean-Claude Lattès editions, 217 pages, 19 euros.

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