|COMPTE RENDU DE LECTURE DE JEAN-MARIE VOLET|
Champs de bataille et d'amour
|Abidjan/Paris: Nouvelles Editions Ivoiriennes/Présence Africaine, 1999, 176p. ISBN 2-911725-75-1 (NEI) 2-7087-0685-3n (PA)|
Thirteen years after the publication of her much celebrated A vol d'oiseau [A bird's flight] (1986) and nine years after the publication of her last novel, Le royaume aveugle [Blind kingdom] (1990), Véronique Tadjo is back with a new title: Champs de Bataille et d'amour [Fields of battle and love] (1999).True to her gift for words and concern for social justice, Tadjo proposes a moving yet uncompromising image of contemporary love and life in Africa at a time of reckoning. A time when old folk, uprooted and trapped in the midst of inimical urban surroundings,bewail a paradise lost: "là-bas, au pays, avant la guerre, avant la mort et la souffrance"(p.84) [over there, home, before the war, before the death and suffering]. It is one where the new generations are disconnected from their roots: "prêtant plutôt l'oreille aux bruits de la ville: klaxons, grincements de pneus, cris, appels, brouhaha"(p.85) [rather attuned to the noises of the city: horns, screeching tyres, shouts, beckoning, hubub]; and one where everyone, irrespective of their age, falls victim to the evils of separation, exile, wandering and solitude.
Snapshots of society illustrate the "battlefield" that has spread far and wide on the continent and beyond. They show an old woman and a small girl begging in the street, the funeral of an old man, the death of a woman in hospital and the horror of war reflected in the eyes of a girl who escaped Rwanda's massacres. However, the bulk of the novel - twenty-two short chapters in all - focuses on the social, human and metaphysical dimensions of the intimate battles a couple has to fight within themselves in order to survive.
Aimée leaves everything to follow Eloka and together they feel invincible. But fate is not playing the tune of eternal love and people's immortality. Life never turns out to be plain sailing and the best Aimée and Eloka can achieve is to graduate painstakingly to some kind of human wisdom, assessing progressively the measure of their own powers and limitations. Invincible they are not, and faced with the injustices of the world, they realise that people are prisoners of their mind just as much as they are dominated by their environment; even freedom has a bitter taste when it cannot be shared. No music can soothe the ear when noises of war are rumbling in the distance; no answers can be found in the cacophony of a world destroying its own environment. But life goes one, no matter what.
As the striving for great achievements loses its drive, Eloka and Aimée rediscover the simple things that make life worth living: a friend who will be there when you return home, a tree that gives you its shade, a bird building its nest or crossing the sky, the noise of the cicadas, or the colour of the sand. In realising the measure of human insignificance in the whole scheme of things, Tadjo does not slide towards a universe deprived of humanity: quite the contrary. Her outlook on life remains resolutely positive. In time, she argues, the worst human aberrations dissolve in the black hole of human memory and, as surely as the sun disappears below the horizon every day, every dawn brings new hope for the generations to come.
The chemistry that makes reading enjoyable is not always easy to establish and it may well have a different origin for different readers. For example, my reading of a book with a strong emphasis on the relationship between people and their environment, at a time I was starting to receive articles about ecology for this edition of Mots Pluriels, could only be fascinating. And so, all the passages dealing with this particular issue have possibly received more attention than they would have otherwise. So too questions raised in the book in relation to the issue of freedom (one's own and that of others), personal fulfilment, ambitions, discouragement, exile, etc... All the vicissitudes of contemporary life are there to be shared by the two main characters: elements that may well express the complementary side of the reader's own personality and bewilderment in the face of a society that seem to have lost its bearings. Yet there is more to this book than a tragic depiction of the battle of life and love. Perhaps a "je ne sais quoi" tells us that: