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The hidden face of immigration

June 27, 2012

It is narrated in The Belly of the Atlantic

England is out of the EURO 2012, kicked out on penalty by Italy.  On 29th, June 2000, the Italian team was sending out the Dutch in the same fashion.  It’s against the backdrop of that very intense game that this novel opens.  Over 18 pages, the narrator relays that game to us while titilliating us with Madicke watching the same game in a little village on the Senegalese coast.

Now, I love all the major football tournaments, but when you’ve read the blurb of the book, you’re almost urging the author to get to the point; to show us the meat.

Here is the story:

“Salie lives in France.  Her brother, Madicke, dreams of going there and is relying on her to make his dream come true.  But how to explain to her brother the hidden face of immigration, especially when he sees France as the Promised Land, the land where Senegalese footballers make it big?  How to make Madicke not be taken in by the man of Barbes, who since coming back from France has seen his social status rise….”

But to the point, she gets, and stays there, bringing out those uncomfortable truths, which don’t get aired most of the time when the topic of immigration comes up.

On one hand, we have the man of Barbes (his name is not mentioned) living it large in his polygamous household.  It is at his house, where the sofas are still covered in the plastic material they were delivered in, that the youths of the village of Niodior go to watch the football.  For he’s the only one who has a TV, and a fridge, and a freezer; so what does it matter that the fridge-freezer is locked?  Those things got him a fourth wife.

Then on the other hand, we have Monsieur Ndetare, who because of his subversive ideas, got sent to that far away village by the Government.  It is Monsieur Ndetare who spends his days telling the young people of Niodior that France, and consequently Europe is not all it’s cracked up to be.  But who listens?  He may feel hopeful when Madicke relents in his football playing to learn French, but Madicke is learning French so that he can go to France.  Especially as his sister lives there.  The sister he flashes the phone of, expecting her to call him back ASAP.  It’s not like they pay telephone bills in France, do they?

So the sister calls him back, and relays to him the game’s result, and she watches every game so she can tell him the result.  He barely says two words when she asks how the rest of the family is, but oh, has he got a stream of words when it comes to the betterment of his life, in France!  Despite the warnings of Monsieur Ndetare, despite the warnings of his sister that for every Bouba Diop, there are countless Moussa, Madicke is hell-bent on France.

Whether he goes, whether he relents or not, I will not spoil this book and I will leave it there, but it will be good to hear your views….  Let’s have a conversation!

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