International Fiction: Anderson Tepper’s Global Shortlist (NYT)

In “International Fiction: Summer’s in High Gear and So Are the Cities” (The New York Times Book Review) Anderson Tepper includes Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé’s Waiting for the Waters to Rise on his summer global shortlist and reviews. Other selections on the shortlist are new books by Rémy Ngamije (Namibia), Luiz Ruffato (Brazil), and Gianfranco Calligarich (Italy). Here is his review of Waiting for the Waters to Rise.

By Maryse Condé
Translated by Richard Philcox
282 pp. World Editions. Paper, $16.99.

The work of Condé, winner of the so-called Alternative Nobel in 2018, spans the world, from Africa to Europe, the Caribbean and beyond — often all within one book. “Waiting for the Waters to Rise,” originally published in France in 2010 and translated by her longtime collaborator (and husband) Philcox, is, indeed, a novel of “migrations, exoduses and exiles.” And similar to “The Eternal Audience of One,” it is largely told in the round, with leading characters getting their own chapters to recount their journeys.

Babakar Traoré is an obstetrician who has settled in Guadeloupe after fleeing political violence in Mali. Like his long-dead mother — who still speaks to him in his dreams — he claims allegiance to neither nation nor religion, believing instead in Art and Literature. Soon, his story will intersect with that of Reinette, a Haitian refugee who dies in childbirth. Along with Reinette’s friend, Movar, Babakar heads to Haiti to find Reinette’s family and deliver her orphaned daughter to them. There, he is also aided by a Palestinian hotel-owner named Fouad, who has his own story to tell of violence and displacement in Beirut.

But no place comes to life quite like Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince — a menacing land of henchmen and earthquakes, where “the living and the dead remain together.” In Haiti, Babacar is reminded, too, that if its people “manage to resist and survive so many calamities, it’s thanks to the magic of its thousands of artists.” Condé’s text, in fact, is sprinkled with the names of global literary giants — Aimé Césaire, Jacques Roumain, Ousmane Sembène, Mahmoud Darwish, Derek Walcott — a roll call she certainly deserves to be added to.

[Anderson Tepper is a chair of the international committee of the Brooklyn Book Festival.]

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