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Calixthe Beyala : writing in the marginsBoniface Mongo-Mboussa

Calixthe Beyala is not the first African female novelist. Previously, two of her compatriots, Marie-Claire Matip (Ngonda, 1958) and Thérèse Kuoh Moukoury (Rencontres essentielles, 1969) had already written "romanticised autobiographies". On an African level, international recognition of Black African Feminine Literature starts with Mariama Bâ, author of Une si longue lettre (1979). Her novel denounces the female condition in Senegalese society. However, despite the revolt that runs through it, this work, written is a classic style, mostly remains intimist. It is not until the appearance of Calixthe Beyala's first novel, The Sun Hath Looked Upon Me (1988), that French African feminine writing fulfills its "duty of violence". Firstly, this works on a linguistic level, since Calixthe Beyala lays claim to "brutal, deliberately provocative writing that adopts the vividness of the spoken word…"(1). Secondly, this is shown through the narrative space - a shanty-town in Yaoundé, called the QG. Finally, this violence is inherent to the protagonist, Ateba, as she is the daughter of a prostitute and has an unknown father.
The novel is audacious in showing a world that is totally marginal. This possibly explains why this, and all of Beyala's works in general, are so well received in France and the United States. However, this subversion poses a problem in that it does not always go hand in hand with a true work of literary writing. "Calixthe Beyala is a disputed writer, who does not abide by the implicit rules for entering the literary world. You could therefore say in a word that she is a popular writer who knows how to find her public in striking the page and hitting hard. It so happens that in doing this, she highlights the essence of the world and beings that she wants to bear witness for - they are frustrated, brutal, pathetic and disturbing. Maybe this writing (or absence of writing) is most appropriate for depicting the catastrophic 1980s and the failure of the unclassifiable sections of a partially policed French society?" (2)
Denise Brahimi's point of view is shared by Ambroise Kom, who considers that the writing of Calixthe Beyala is an essentially functional work: "given her realistic style, her vigour and greenness of many of her descriptions, we can assert that Beyala's writing is essentially functional and practical: knowing how to denounce the patriarchal order which governs relationships between men and women in contemporary societies." (3)
This (possibly) explains why Calixthe Beyala's books are published in the paperback collection J'ai Lu, which is generally devoted to "paraliterature".
The second pit-fall in Calixthe Beyala's novels is to be found in the highly ambiguous relationship that she keeps with Western readers. In his famous article L'écrivain africain et son public (4), Mohamadou Kane has clearly shown how the African writer is torn between a reader of the heart (African) and a reader of the mind (Western).
As the latter type of reader benefits from an established cultural tradition, they constitute the writer's principal audience and major client, to the extent (....)


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