|The New Gong
Publishers of New Writing and Images
treatment of her book by
Cameroonian writer Léonora Miano protests against the foreword to
her novel, Dark Side of the Night, by Terese Svoboda in the
University of Nebraska Press edition.
In sub-Saharan Africa, we’re used to being despised by the rest of
the world and to being treated as mere animals. I knew, when L’
intérieur de la nuit (Dark Heart of the Night) was published, that
someone would use the novel in order to reinforce their views on
Africa and its peoples. Really, I didn’t care and still don’t care about
that. What I’m interested in, is the African point of view on the topics
I work on. I think we’ve spent too much time hoping for
understanding and recognition from people other than ourselves. It’
s time we focus on our problems and deal with them, no matter how
painful it is. I’m confident in our ability to do so. I’m confident in our
desire to no more take lessons in humanity from people who
created and used the atomic bomb, and who still have death penalty
in their country. Things would be so cool if people could just clean
their front door ...
When University of Nebraska Press bought the rights of the book, I
was happy because it’s important for me to be translated into
English, and to make my work available for the many Africans (and
people of African descent as well) who actually speak English. I
started to ask myself questions when I saw which title had been
chosen for the American translation of L’intérieur de la nuit. Dark
Heart of the Night has nothing to do with the original title. It
resembles Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and voluntarily sends wrong
messages. But all right. The contract had been signed, and UN
Press could use a title betraying my work without me having a say in
this. They could even create that ugly cover if they thought it would
help them sell the book. I know nothing about the American taste as
far as covers are concerned.
But now, UN Press also felt entitled to add a foreword. Why not, if
the aim was to help the readers know the writer and understand the
novel? The problem is that the foreword is full of misleading
information. Let’s say it frankly, it’s full of lies:
1. Cameroon does not have the worse human rights record in
Africa. We have a lot of issues to face, but our country is not more
violent than the USA where people are killed on a daily basis for all
kinds of reasons. I don’t understand why the author of that
foreword, who never bothered to contact me, made up stories like
that. She is insulting a country and its people. Cameroonians will
certainly not allow it.
2. Cameroon is not the setting of the novel which was, as I’ve said it
many times, inspired by a documentary that I saw on children at war.
We don’t have those in Cameroon nowadays, and if we ever had, I
never heard about it.
3. I discovered the so called "Hashish Massacre" in the foreword. I
had never heard of that, even if I knew about the armed conflicts we
had in the country during the late fifties, when our people were
fighting for their independence.
4. I did not leave Cameroon to France to flee from a violent place. I
live in France because I’m both selfish and down to earth. France is
still the place where you need to be when you’re an African French-
speaking writer. It’s what allows you to be published and correctly
distributed. My fellow Cameroonians don’t know the many talented
writers who live in the country and whose books are published
there. They know me. And L’intérieur de la nuit was awarded the
Prize of Cameroonian Excellency in 2007.
5. My novel is not a criticism of Negritude or Panafricanism. I’m
deeply attached to Negritude whose authors have nurtured and
freed my mind. If it was not for what they did, I would not be such a
bold and fierce voice. They made me. Isn’t it a pity to see that the
author of the foreword cannot even write Aimé Cesaire’s name
I’m a strong advocate of Panafricanism, which I view as the only way
to solve some of our problems. L’intérieur de la nuit deals with
fascistic views of the African identity, and this has nothing to do with
Negritude or Panafricanism.
6. I’ve not just written another novel. Three more have actually
been published, in addition with one collection of short stories and a
collection of creative nonfiction. The latter, entitled Soulfood
Equatoriale, is my only book really talking about Cameroon. And
you know what? Nobody dies in the book. If the foreword was to be
informative, it would have said all this. It would also have said that L’
intérieur de la nuit is part of a trilogy. Even if those novels were
written so they could be read separately, they form an ensemble.
7. There is only one child killed in L’intérieur de la nuit, and that
child is an orphan (it doesn’t make it good to kill him, but we’re
talking about what is in the novel). I don’t understand why the author
of the foreword talks about the women whose children are
slaughtered. Can the lady actually read? Has she read? I think she
must have been given an oral summary of the novel, plus two or
three sentences to place here and there. This is not serious.
We’ve asked UN Press to withdraw the foreword. If they cannot do it
because the books are already out, they’ll have to send them with a
letter explaining everything.
- Léonora Miano