cover image Transit


Abdourahman A. Waberi, trans. from the French by David Ball and Nicole Ball. Indiana Univ., $17 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-253-00693-6

Steeped in both historical lore and the socio-political realities of the small ex-French colony of Djibouti before and during its 1990s civil war, Waberi%E2%80%99s new collection tells the alternatively inspiring and somewhat laborious tale of Bashir %E2%80%9CBinladen,%E2%80%9D in Paris due to mistaken identity, who provides a crassly sensationalistic window into the soldier%E2%80%99s life, replete with graphic rape-and-pillage exploits described in an energetic, illiterate voice: %E2%80%9COh, the army was big mess. Holy Moly! We killed the Wadags, screwed their daughters, poisoned wells....%E2%80%9D Standing in stark contrast to Bashir is Abdo-Julien, a child prone to lofty, over-lyrical observations: nomads are %E2%80%9CChroniclers of the ephemeral,%E2%80%9D who %E2%80%9Cshell their sayings like oysters.%E2%80%9D Two other characters, both engrossing, arrive late in the binary alternations between Bashir%E2%80%99s warrior-thug sensationalism and Abdo-Julien%E2%80%99s sentimentality: Alice, the Breton student who fled France with Abdo-Julien%E2%80%99s father, is a sexualized and pragmatic mom who knows leaving Brittany will have tragic consequences; and Awaleh, Abdo-Julien%E2%80%99s nomadic warrior grandfather, is the very incarnation of the enchanted and fierce region known as the Horn of Africa%E2%80%94both adventurer and modest seer, he gives Waberi%E2%80%99s narrative depth and a touch of magical realism. (Oct.)