cover image Descent into Night

Descent into Night

Edem Awumey, trans. from the French by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. Mawenzi House (UTP, dist.), $20.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-988449-16-6

This brilliant and devastating novel from Awumey (who won the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire for Port Melo, and was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt for Les pieds sales) follows Ito Baraka, an accomplished, dying, alcoholic author, as he writes one last book. Awumey’s text flawlessly intertwines Ito’s wrestling with his leukemia-stricken body with his attempt to tell the story of his rebellious youth in Togo, which culminated in his imprisonment after he was found at the scene of an anti-government riot. Little by little, as Baraka travels by train from Quebec City to Ottawa and then to his home in Hull, Quebec, he works on a potentially autobiographical story about a student of literature and philosophy in the 1980s, writing in the three great loves of Ito’s life: his prison mate, Koli Lem, a blind man who gives him hope; Santou, the mother of his child; and Kimi Blue, the drug-addicted woman from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg reserve who loves him as he tries to drown his survivor’s guilt at the end of his alcohol-soaked life. Kimi’s story contains parallels to the ravages of colonialism, leading Ito to muse, “That’s how life goes on back home, as in many other times and places. One lives in those rare spaces spared by the bullets.” Artfully constructed, peppered with evocative phrasing, and skillfully translated, this beautiful volume is upsetting, poignant, and at times harrowing. (Mar.)