1. As if the Novel were Almost Irrelevant Batouala’s Reception
In 1921, Batouala’s daring and provocative reversal of black and white worlds marked not only a complete departure in French literature; it was an historic, political and ideological milestone. René Maran, the first black author to recount the African experience of Western civilisation through colonialism, was also the first to give literary voice to an unexpurgated black world-view which, until then, had existed almost exclusively in speech and song.Batouala’s potent cocktail of politically volatile and culturally controversial content touched an acutely raw nerve in France and beyond, triggering rage and galvanising prejudice as the novel drew the Western world’s attention to the deplorable conditions in Oubangui-Chari in French Equatorial Africa and, by extension, to colonial settlements everywhere.45 The work’s conspicuous literary merit has been the principal casualty of this success.
When the initial thirty copies of Batouala appeared in bookshops in June 1921, Maran was virtually unknown. His only published works at that time were two volumes of poetry, La Maison du bonheur (1909) and La Vie intérieure (1912). Becoming the first black author to win France’s Prix Goncourt on December 14 sealed his fate.46 From one man’s uncensored, unflattering report card on France’s mission civilisatrice in Africa and his heartfelt plea for change, Batouala was catapulted to world centre stage, taking the reputation of France with it.
← 3 | 4 →In assessing the initial reviews of Batouala, Roger Fayolle makes the critical observation that only rarely did a reviewer give a short résumé of...
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