Lagon, lagunes: Tableau de memoire.
BORN IN PARIS of a French mother and a Senegalese father, Sylvie Kande recounts in Lagon, lagunes her memories of being a mulatresse and the multiple instabilities that such a hybrid status engenders. Dispossessed and dis-oriented, she writes to re-member fragments of the past before they elude her. "Writing is the best way of finding one's Orient," for the Occident, the West, is already part and parcel of her heritage. As Edouard Glissant puts it in his postface, reading this metis text is like solving a riddle.
The francophone reader is linguistically unhoused by Kande's highly poetic prose, which plays on very fine distinctions like lagon/lagunes (both mean "lagoon") and uses archaic or erudite words and the infamous difficultes de la langue franfaise, which were inculcated in the African colonized subject through wearing the punitive, shameful symbole around the neck. The reader is also submerged by the sheer density of literary references, ranging from Greek mythology, the French symbolists (e.g., Baudelaire's "L'albatros"), French anthropology (e.g., Marcel Griaule's work on the Dogon of Mali), and the Harlem Renaissance, to African classics (Leopold Sedar Senghor's "Joal," Cheikh Hamidou Kane's L'aventure ambigue), Caribbean classics (Cesaire's Cahier d'un retour au pays natal), and contemporary Nigerian poetry such as Niyi Osundare's Moonsongs. This short but dense book is divided into eight parts, headed by African graphic signs from the ex-Zairean scholar Clementine Faik-Nzugi's Tracing Memory and crowned by a symbol from Tom Folley's Book of the Moon.
Mnemotechnics and the moon are subtly linked, as Kande sieves individual recollections of her childhood and her later memories of New York (where she has been teaching francophone literature since 1994) as well as the collective memory of mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, and heroes of mixed blood like Vincent Oge and the Chavannes, who were be headed in 1791 for claiming equal rights in San Domingo. These events are relayed in a scene from an imaginary play embedded in the prose. Another such sequence presents Sundjata, the Emperor of Mali, as "Sun-Diata," a heliocentric autocrat, faced with a female Rebel -- Kande's obvious alter ego -- who claims she is "not black ... but beautiful" and further disproves Calixthe Beyala's 1987 novel title C' est le soleil qui m'a brulee.
The move outlined in the book is clearly away from the sun and worshipers of Ra-tionality, toward the moon, in a lunar, enigmatic autobiography, for her "nostalgia is for the moon." Her private pantheon is made of moon gods like Thoth, the Egyptian ibis-headed record-keeper of the dead and inventor of writing, and the Roman goddess Diana, associated with the moon, virginity, and hunting, but also of Semele, the daughter of the Theban Cadmus, with whom Kande most readily identifies. Governed by Hermes, this moon-induced poetry is inexorably hermetic and occasionally verges on the dithyrambic, but the reader remains spellbound by this unique voice in the still frail chorus of second-generation, Paris-born, American-based African metisses.
Chantal Zabus Universite de Paris XIII