Published on June 23, 2022 at 6:30 p.m.
Dedicated “to women victims of the Sahel”, this new novel by Djaïli Amadou Amal is inspired by real events. For ten years the jihadist group Boko Haram has been spreading terror in the villages of the Far North region of Cameroon, where she is from. The writer depicts the fear in which women live there, the anguish of being kidnapped or even killed. The heroine of “Heart of the Sahel”, a servant born in the countryside, leaves to work in town in the service of a rich family. She is also confronted with the forbidden love relationships between different classes and ethnic groups, the almost impossible access to education and the drought which is worsening under the effect of climate change.
SHE. A relationship between a teacher from a wealthy family and a servant, as you imagine, is possible in the Far North.
Djaïli Amadou Amal. Yes, inter-religious and inter-ethnic marriages are more common today, and arranged alliances are slowly disappearing. On the other hand, early marriages remain. However, a girl of 14 or 15 who agrees to marry a man is obviously influenced by her parents. But my novel aims for universality, I don’t want to confine myself to a painting from the Far North: a white man who marries a black woman, or the member of a well-to-do family who gets into a relationship with someone poor. may encounter prejudices and obstacles in France as well.
SHE. Do the women among themselves discuss what is happening to them?
AAD Hardly. Even in intimacy, between friends, between sisters, sexuality remains a taboo subject. Yet 56% of Cameroonian women say they are victims of violence from their partner. They do not file a complaint for rape or harassment, because as victims, they risk finding themselves accused. What “Heart of the Sahel” tells – the rape of a servant, or the pleasure that a young girl takes in making love – caused a scandal on social networks immediately after the publication of the book. These consequences do not bother me: I write to shake things up and bring about change.
SHE. Is there a #MeToo movement in Cameroon?
AAD Even if the testimonies do not explicitly fall under the #MeToo banner, as in the West, many women speak out on social networks and say: “What is written in the novel, this rape, I experienced it. “I get a lot of messages. My novels and those of other authors contribute to liberating speech and bringing families face to face with their turpitude. I am not the only writer in Cameroon, but practically the only one in the Far North. And since last year, “Les Impatientes” has been on the program for senior classes.
SHE. Are you a role model for young women?
AAD Maybe ! In any case, they are my first readers. I know this from my eldest daughters, university students. Their friends, also students, have access to social networks, aspire to experience love and to avoid polygamy or domestic violence. I am sure that they will have fewer children than the women of previous generations.
“Heart of the Sahel”, by Djaïli Amadou Amal (Éditions Emmanuelle Collas, 364 p.), available on Amazon