Boubacar Boris Diop is the author of Murambi: The Book of Bones, an unforgettable novel of the Rwandan genocide that blends journalistic research with finely drawn characterizations of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. In this episode, Mr. Diop reads from Murambi, translated from French by Fiona McLaughlin, and speaks to Duke professor Sarah Quesada and host Aarthi Vadde about how his work on the novel spurred him to rethink his language of composition. Mr. Diop wrote his first five novels in French, but after Murambi, shifted to Wolof, the most widely spoken language in his home country of Senegal. Asked to describe the difference between writing in French and writing in Wolof, Mr. Diop sums it up memorably: “When I start writing in French, I shut the door; I shut the window…I don’t hear the words I’m writing. When I write in Wolof, I hear every word.”
Sarah and Mr. Diop discuss whether translation can be an ally to a Wolof worldview or whether the sounds that Mr. Diop hears through his window will inevitably be lost to readers who encounter his Wolof novels in English or French. Their dialogue suggests that, while Wolof represents a form of linguistic emancipation from the legacy of a French colonial education, there is also discovery and freedom in raising the literary profile of Wolof for an international audience. Mr. Diop’s Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks is the first Wolof novel to be translated into English and an excerpt from his second Wolof novel Bàmmeelu Kocc Barma is available in translation here.
In response to our signature question of the season, Mr. Diop proposes that the Wolof word “keroog” is very difficult to translate but not impossible. And it spurs an impromptu comparison to the Spanish word “ahorita,” which like “keroog,” blurs the distinctions between present, past, and future. In an episode about personal and political memory, nothing could be more fitting!
View a transcript of the episode here.
Mentioned in this Episode
- Toni Morrison
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Mario Vargas Llosa
- Ernesto Sábato
- Léopold Sédar Senghor
- Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks, Boubacar Boris Diop (2016)
- Bàmmeelu Kocc Barma, Boubacar Boris Diop (2017)
- Malaanum Lëndëm, Boubacar Boris Diop (2022)
- Alice Chaudemanche (French translator of Malaanum Lëndëm)
- Pierre Nora
- Marianne Hirsch
- “Sites mémoriaux du génocide”