cover image Fisherman’s Blues: A West African Community at Sea

Fisherman’s Blues: A West African Community at Sea

Anna Badkhen. Riverhead, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59463-486-4

Journalist Badkhen (Walking with Abel) delivers an evocative, hauntingly beautiful narrative of life in Joal, a fishing village in Senegal. As she embeds herself within boat crews and frequents the seaside gazebos where the fishermen spend their time on shore, Badkhen lucidly describes the rhythm of the village’s daily life (hauling the catch, building a pirogue), as well as its challenges. Between overfishing, illegal foreign ships, and climate change, Joal’s catch is a tenth of what it was a decade ago. Acutely observant, Badkhen meticulously documents Joal’s cuisine (po’boys with murex sauce); lore (spells for catching fish, genies); and special rituals, such as the sacrificial feast to prevent the sea’s anger. She captures the fishermen, their wives, children, dreams, feuds, and banter, and her writing is descriptive and poetic. Images flash before the reader: the barefoot fishwives “in bright multi-layered headwraps and embroidered velvet bonnets” rushing down to greet the catch of the day, the ancient mounds of shells “among the brackish channels that vein the mangrove flats between the Petite Côte and the mouth of the Gambia River,” and a “murmuration of weavers” flying out of an acacia tree. This is a moving tribute to a traditional way of life facing enormous change. [em](Mar.) [/em]