Synopsis: In 1947–8 the workers on the Dakar-Niger railway came out on strike. Sembène Ousmane, in this vivid and moving novel, evinces all of the colour, passion and tragedy of those decisive years in the history of West Africa.
Title: God’s Bits of Wood
Author: Sembène Ousmane
The 1947–8 Dakar-Niger railway strike is known as one of the events that have truly shaped the importance of African culture. God’s Bits of Wood is a fictional piece based on the events that took place in the strike and never ceases to shock, inspire and most importantly, shed light on the events that took place.
Each individual battle, success, or death was mentioned in some way, which was sometimes confusing, but necessary in order to see the collective effort of countless families who struggled against the mistreatment and racism by European colonists.
God’s Bits of Wood focuses not only on issues of racism, but also those of gender. Throughout the book, the women are constantly battling with their restricted roles in society and reach a level of equality that would never have been possible before the strike. We see wives and children start off as supporters of the male workers and as victims of the chaos that ensues; to becoming the bread-winners, the scavengers of food, the nurses – the fighters, and finally, the marchers.
I have never read a novel that so beautifully describes … well, everything. From a burning sunset to a tragic death of a young child, Ousmane has an exquisite way with words; he describes events in an accurate, almost cold manner, but manages to drag every emotion out of you with his words. The first paragraph of the novel, which I have added below, made me stop and really imagine what it looked like. I think I read that first paragraph about 6 times, and have since read it to about 10 people.
“The last rays of the sun filtered through a shredded lacework of clouds. To the west, waves of mist spun slowly away, and at the very centre of the vast mauve and indigo arch of sky the great crimson orb grew steadily larger. The roofs, the thorny minarets of the mosques, the trees – silk-cotton, flame, and mahogany – the walls, the ochered ground; all caught fire. Striking brutally through the cloud curtain, like the beam from some celestial projector, a single ray of light lashed at the Koulouba, the governor’s residence, poised like a sugar castle on the heights that bore its name.”
God’s Bits of Wood is probably one of the most harrowing and beautifully written books I have read so far this year. Definitely something I will read again and again (especially the first paragraph!) and would recommend to anyone who will listen to me.