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Yambo Ouologuem, Postcolonial Writer, Islamic Militant, ed. Christopher Wise. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1999. 258 pp. 0-89410-861-1. US$55.
During the 1970s, when African literature was sinking roots in European and North American academic institutions, Yambo Ouologuem was a pivotal figure. Le devoir de violence had burst onto the scene, announcing a radical shift in literary sensibility, an alternative to the rather flat realist or the "sincere" autobiographical modes of self-expression then prevalent. Sincere, by all evidence, is something Ouologuem was not. The text and its author were quickly embroiled in rounds of polemic concerning its possible plagiarism.
The novel ultimately kept its annunciatory promise. We need only think of the subsequent works of Sony Labou Tansi, V. Y. Mudimbe, or indeed Calixthe Beyala, to realize how far African writing in French has leapt from the early years--if, that is, literary leaps and bounds can be measured in terms of innovation and experiment. Though Ouologuem was not the sine qua non of this development, his text cleared terrain for others to cultivate, or in Wise's words, …