“Two and a half great men”: the grueling journey of the valiant Manthia, from Mali to Paris

“Two and a half great men”: the grueling journey of the valiant Manthia, from Mali to Paris

With humor and creativity, Diadié Dembélé pays tribute, in his new novel, to those who were forced into exile to save their families. But the young Malian he follows will not do like his elders, lying or keeping quiet about the brambles that litter the migration paths…

“These words, before being in a book, were a collection of small and large stories heard, here and there, about life in France as experienced by some of my compatriots in the 90s.” Manthia and Toko, the characters of Two and a half great menowe them a lot, recognizes the author Diadié Dembélé.

These stories, collected in particular during his work within an association helping migrants, informed his new book. Through the journey of Toko and Manthia, it is his love and fascination for rurality that he confesses, his uprooting from Mali and his discovery of France that he examines even if, for the occasion, he has endorsed the clothes of these others who we call migrants. Those whom famine, the devaluation of the CFA franc and political instability pushed onto the roads of Africa, first and then of Europe.

Manthia, disinherited and threatened with expulsion as he is, does not intend to surrender without defending himself. Faced with the French lawyer who presses him with questions and the translator who takes note of his explanations, he begins a story which must allow him to embrace at the same time the imperative necessity, the manifest good will, the prolonged efforts, the regrettable unforeseen events. , but also the element of bad luck that often accompanies any expatriation adventure.

A poetic language in an enriched version

His French, infused with soninké and expressions grown in Mali, takes on looser clothing and new resonances, creating a rebellious language with multiple resonances, the only one capable of reflecting his winding journey over the last ten years.

This tale-like story is nevertheless punctuated by very real events and encounters, in Mali as in Paris. Going back in time, Diadié Dembélé thus pays homage to all these travelers whom their mothers, in their dreams, adorn with a thousand virtues to enable them to face the uncertainties and pitfalls of the journey, tailoring for them a costume capable of doubling, or even more, their silhouette of great men.

Adopting a language as sweet as honey to the ears, but lively and precise like the tropical mosquito, when it comes to offering reminders of reality, the writer had already been noted for the inventiveness of his phrasing and the richness of its metaphors in The Duel of the Grandmothers, his first novel published by Lattès. An initiation story crowned with several prize, including that of the Vocation 2022.

A constrained destiny

Forced into exile to save his family, his hero Manthia hides nothing of his setbacks or his disillusionments, his vain attempts and his humiliations, confirming through his meager victories, his fierce desire to get out of it, despite contrary winds. Its reinvented and fertile language is only one of the many indicators of its desire for integration. Retold with humor and imagination, his adventure intersects the stories of thousands of undocumented immigrants, from Africa or elsewhere, leaving a daily life threatened by ever more deadly climatic and financial conditions, to land in unsanitary homes or centers retention.

Novelist and poet, born in western Mali, Diadié Dembélé sheds light on their journeys as he had previously done on the traditions of the Soninké warrior nobility, proclaiming in passing his love of poetry in his very first collection, Royal braidspublished in 2019. This same prose he uses to translate Manthia's most intimate and melancholy thoughts, facing the whims of fate.

Karin Tshidimba

Two and a half great men | Novel | Diadie Dembélé | JC Lattès, 230 pp., €21, digital €15

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