In Search of Yambo Ouologuem is a fascinating book written by Christopher Wise about Yambo Ouologuem, the writer and author of Le Devoir de Violence. It was a controversial novel which, after publication, resulted in him leaving the African literary stage prematurely and abruptly because of allegations of plagiarism; and Ouloguem’s assertion that he was discriminated against and that the publishers had deliberately set out to smear his name by making alterations to the manuscript or not publishing modifications that he had made to his manuscript. In Search of Yambo, Ouloguem is a slim volume published by Chimurenga Press. It is fascinating in its exploration of Ouologuem in that it manages to pin down its subject. He is not entirely an enigma. The writer – Christopher Wise, does have an encounter with him. It is an interesting episodic encounter.
Ouologuem is portrayed as both a visionary and a mad man. We do not get enough insight into the psychological journey he makes from being a young writer to becoming a Muslim divine. We get a sense of the intense psychological and social pressure that led him to reject the literary space. I find that the book is well written. It is populated with interesting characters who spring from real life and gives a bit of an insight into the swirling range of interests that shapes the political, social and cultural life in the Sahel and the accommodations that writers have to make in terms of how they are represented in international publishing. It also gives a sense of what happens when a writer repudiates the world, particularly African writers. There are a few notable examples of writers who have become, for some reason, reclusive, notably Bessie Head as well as Ayi Kwei Armah. Although we are not entirely given the sense that Ouologuem’s turn from the world is a tragic one, there is an undertone to that. That there is so much more to what this man could have said as a literary speaker but because of how he was entered into the world of publishing, his ability to speak beyond that momentary incident of the novel was utterly destroyed. He found for himself a shelter in a rigorous assertive interpretation of Islam. In that sense, he is perhaps quite a symbolic character. The book is a deep and insightful view into what happens to the mind of an African, particularly an African from a Muslim background who has an encounter with the West in terms of an ideological confrontation.
It is a book that bears reading, it is slim as a volume but it packs a punch.