Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Book Review: In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo, trans by John Cullen

In the Company of Men In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't really know what to make of this book. In some ways it wasn't that great, sometimes a bit boring, but at other times what the author tried to do worked well.

Véronique Tadjo is a writer from Côte d'Ivoire of poetry, novels and children's books. One of her children's books is listed in the 100 Best African Writing of the 20th century https://www.african-writing.com/seven...

Here she has written the story of the 2014 - 2016 Ebola epidemic that scoured West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It has been translated from French to English by John Cullen, who also translated Yasmina Khadra's Swallows of Kabul which I read some years ago. I listen to this on the Audible veriosn narrated by Je Nie Fleming and I have to say I did not enjoy this narration, I found her American intonation very off putting.

As for the book itself, it is a strange compilation of essentially first person narratives from various people who experienced the Ebola outbreak including a carrier of the disease, nurse, a person who buries the dead, a survivor, a nurse, the evacuated infected volunteer, the scientist, the adopter of child survivors, the poet who lost his financée. There are also first person narrative chapters by the Baobab tree, the Virus itself and the Bat. For those of us who followed this event on the TV News as it happened from the safety of our homes we will recognise all the stories.

For me the work was a bit too sprawling, and it wasn't until the final chapters that it rose up and she really found her voice, particularly the chapter by the Virus and by the much maligned Bat. She caught the right mood there, decrying Man, our interaction with Nature, raising questions about global aid, how to face similar impending crises, how to rebuild.

I think it was an ambitious structure to attempt and clearly based on research and interviews. It is not a non fiction book and doesn't read like one although other reviewers have mentioned it read as such to them. It is a very creative piece which doesn't on the whole come off as well as it might have, which is a shame considering the parts that do within its short 160 pages .

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