Setting readers at sea: Fatou Diome’s Ventre de l’Atlantique
Fatou Diome’s first novel, Le Ventre de l’Atlantique (2003), can be read as a work of migrant literature in which the Atlantic figures as a separating expanse beholden to a single past, that of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The ocean divides contemporary African migrants to Europe from the continent, as it did enslaved Africans taken forcibly to the Americas; it consumes a returned impoverished migrant, as it swallowed those who did not survive the Middle Passage. Yet for the authorial protagonist, Salie, and her island home, the Senegalese fishing village of Niodior, the Atlantic evokes multiple histories and experiences. This ocean is a place of freedom, as well as its absence; of daily sustenance, as well as migration; of life, as well as death; of postcolonial violence, as well as the violence of the Trade. The novel’s Atlantic, like the text as a whole, alludes to many pasts and, at times, abandons the dualities of place, race, and gender that organize most contemporary discourse about migration and oppression. Passages of opaque desire and oblique critique diverge from a dichotomous geography of continents and subject positions. Where Salie and Niodior emerge uncontained by categories inherited from colonial discourses, there are intimations of what genuinely postcolonial freedom might be.
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