The Goncourt prize for high school students was awarded to Les Impatientes, by Djaïli Amadou Amal (Emmanuelle Collas editions). The announcement was made on Wednesday, December 2 on the site of Fnac, co-organizer of the event with the French Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The book was also a finalist for the Goncourt Prize, awarded Monday, November 30 to L’Anomalie, by Hervé Le Tellier (Gallimard). Djaïli Amadou Amal succeeds Karine Tuil, awarded in 2019 for Les Choses humaines– Human Things (Gallimard).
Les Impatientes is the first novel by her author to appear in France, but it is already the fifth that she has published. The Cameroonian writer does not hide what she borrows from her own story, she has been married at the age of 17 to a “billionaire” in his fifties. In Les Impatientes, we follow three characters: Ramla, forcibly married to a man in his fifties when she was promised to a boy of her age whom she loved; Hindu, united the same day, also against her will, to her alcoholic cousin, drugged and violent, and Safira, Ramla’s “co-wife”, who takes a dim view of the young woman’s arrival after twenty-two years of monogamous union.
All have always been given the same order: “Munyal!” Which means patience in Pulaar/Fulfulde, and should enable them to apprehend with wisdom their condition – in reality, to submit to the patriarchal order and to endure marital rape and living in a polygamous house, where everyone spies on each other, where each wife fears that others will threaten her situation and that of her children. If Les Impatientes may seem a little demonstrative, its remarks resonate singularly in an era wrought by violence against women. The founder of Emmanuelle Collas (created in 2018) discovered the text in 2019 when it was awarded the Orange Book Prize in Africa.
Each year, the Goncourt high school jury brings together some 2,000 second, first and final year students from the general, technological, and professional sections. They are asked to question the authors (who are initially those of the first list of Goncourt). This year, due to health conditions, the meetings took place in a digital format.
The author, of a Cameroonian father and Egyptian mother, is not in her beginnings and Les Impatientes brings together subjects that have worked for her for a long time. As a child, she said, she read a lot. Amadou Hampaté Bâ, Ferdinand Oyono, Ken Bugul, as well as novels on marriage such as Une si longue lettre, by Mariama Bâ, and Under the storm, by Seydou Badian Kouyaté, which have greatly inspired her.
A novel inspired by real events
In 1998, Djaïli Amadou Amal managed to leave a “billionaire” in his fifties who proposed to her when she was only 17 years old when she dreamed of becoming a journalist. “After having lived through five difficult years with him, I just wanted to kill myself,” she says. There is no shrink in my area, writing has been an outlet. Her manuscript, steeped in anger, remains in the drawers. In Maroua, Djaïli Amadou Amal is organizing a signing session, which the governor of the region attends. He buys the book then, won over, he decides to support her. Her “protégé” was a public success in Cameroon and was invited to the Paris Book Fair in 2012. At the same time, she created Femmes du Sahel, an association for the education of girls in the region, supported by Cameroonian companies and by embassies of the United States and France. The following year appeared in the same publisher Mistiriijo: The Soul Eater, a novel which spoke of accusations of witchcraft and the tradition of “hiirde”: in a hut, a woman “freed from marriage” received men for oratory games (payka), before choosing the winner and deciding how far she wanted to go with him. “Colonization, then the rise of Wahhabism got the better of the hiirde ”, regrets the writer, who wants to“ describe all that is beautiful in her culture and denounce all that is false in our society, because we must know how to say “no” when traditions generate suffering”.
Ten years later, she leaves a second violent husband and settles in Yaoundé. Her entourage tries to convince her to come back and her husband kidnaps their two daughters to punish her. But she fights, works thanks to her BTS in management – the only studies that her husband allowed her to follow. She sells her gold jewelry, buys a computer, a table, a chair, and began writing. “Walaande”, the art of sharing a husband appeared in 2010 by Ifrikiya editions, in Yaoundé. It tells the story of four women living in the same compound who just wait their turn with their husbands.
Soon after, comes the writing of “Munyal: les larmes de la patience” (ed. Proximity, Yaoundé, 2017). The story of the novel intersects the fates of Ramla, in love with Aminou but forcibly married to the wealthy husband of Safira, and her sister Hindu, forced to marry her cousin Mubarak, who rapes her just hours after the ceremony. Revolted, the women take turns speaking in this novel whose construction and purpose are above all didactic: each part shows a form of violence suffered in marriage. The description of “pulaaku” – the set of moral and social rules which determine the way of being a Fulani -, the injustice of the situations experienced and the crudeness of certain dialogues strike the reader, much more than the simple and direct style and the somewhat archetypal characters. To Ramla, who would like to become a pharmacist and marry the one she loves, to Safira, who feels betrayed by the arrival of the co-wife, to Hindu, who almost faint from the blows, the women of the concession say: “Munyal!” Initially, it means patience is a value, explains the author. But in truth, it means: “Support, accept, submit because you are a woman and you must do what is expected of you!” If parents act in this way to protect their daughters, early marriage remains “the most pernicious of violence, that which, depriving young girls of education, generates other violence because it creates dependence”, she added.
The problem of women and their condition is not directly linked to Islam,” explains Djaïli Amadou Amal. It is linked to a rise of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam. Twenty years ago, women were much freer than they are today. Forty years ago they were even more so. What is read here is a misinterpretation of religious texts.Djaili
In 2019, Munyal received the Orange Book Prize in Africa and Emmanuelle Collas read Djaïli Amadou Amal for the first time on this occasion. Collas, a historian of Antiquity founded an independent house in her name in 2018, after having managed the Galaade editions for twelve years. She is interested in the Sahel and the cause of women and has followed the author for a long time on social media. The editor wants to “rework the text so that it becomes universal so that it can be read all over the world.” No question of removing the Fulani words that punctuate the French text, nor of multiplying the footnotes. The book was published in France in September under the title Les Impatientes.
A successful author, Djaïli Amadou Amal is, without doubt, the most widely read Cameroonian writer in recent years. Thus, on the occasion of the dedication she held in May 2018 at the French Institute in Yaoundé, of her novel Munyal, the publisher, Proximity, sold 251 copies.
In March 2019, the book was the winner of the Pan-African Press Prize for Literature 2019 which was awarded to her at the Paris Book Fair (Salon Paris Livre). On that occasion, the Cameroonian Minister of Arts and Culture, Ismael Bidoung Mkpatt, paid a tribute to her on behalf of his country’s government at the Cameroonian Embassy in Paris in front of an audience of guests and diplomatic staff. Two months later, she won the 1st Orange Book Prize in Africa. Distinctions widely relayed in the national media (which she will constantly cover the front page) and international (including Jeune Afrique, Le Point, Paris Match, Radio France Internationale, Vox Africa, Africa 24, France 24, TV5 Monde, among others), confirming the fame of the novelist in her country and beyond the national borders.
A national tribute was also paid to her in September 2019 by the Prime Minister on behalf of the President during a ceremony that was broadcast live on the public television channel. On that occasion, she was elevated to the rank of Officer of the Order of Valor, and she gave a speech on behalf of the artists of her country. Two weeks later, she made a triumphant return to her hometown, Maroua, where she was welcomed by administrative and political authorities, local elites, and the population, ending with a city tour in popular jubilation such as rarely seen in Maroua. The procession comes to a standstill for some five minutes in Mbarmare in front of the family’s home where the writer spent her childhood. On the occasion of the ceremony, she receives from the hands of the Governor of the Region, the letter of personal congratulations from the Head of State for her accomplishments.
To end the year 2019, a year filled with success and so many accomplishments for the novelist, the largest daily newspaper in the country, Cameroon Tribune, designates the novel Munyal: Les Larme de patience as the book of the year.
Works by the author
- Walaande, l’art de partager un mari, éditions Ifrikiya, Yaoundé, 2010, 134 p., (ISBN 9956-473-35-9)8
- Mistiriijo, la mangeuse d’âmes, éditions Ifrikiya, Yaoundé, 2013, (ISBN 978-9956-473-85-4)9
- Munyal; les larmes de la patience, éditions Proximité, Yaoundé, 2017 (ISBN 978-9956-429-54-7)
- Munyal: Reworked and re-edited under the title: Les Impatientes, éditions Emmanuelle Collas Paris, 2020, 252p., (ISBN 978-2-490155-25-5) – prix Goncourt des lycéens 2020