22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Aya Cissoko

Portrait Aya Cissoko
© Christian Winterfieldt

Aya Cissoko was born in 1978 in France. In the early 1970s, her parents emigrated from Mali to France. After her father and sister lost their lives in a 1986 arson attack on their apartment building in a Paris banlieue, Cissoko found refuge in the sport of boxing. In 2006, she was named the world’s amateur boxing champion. A cervical spine fracture and subsequent operation paralyzed her on one side and she ended her boxing career in 2010. Thanks to her resilience, she was able to walk again and attended the Institut d’études politiques in Paris, where she studied political science.

In 2011, together with Marie Desplechin, she published her first book »danbé« (tr: dignity), in which she reflects upon her experiences as a Malian migrant in France. The book was awarded the Grand prix de l’héroïne Madame Figaro and adapted into a film entitled »Danbé, la tête haute« directed by Bourlem Guerdjou. Her second novel »n’ba« (2016; tr: N’ba. My Mother), which she dedicated to her mother and which also contains strong autobiographical elements, tells a mother-daughter story that bridges tradition and modernity as well as Africa and Europe. The book is about both the liberation from the hold of Muslim traditions and the celebration of heritage. At the center of the story is the mother, Massiré Dansira, who was married at 15 in Mali, after which she moved with her husband to France and bore four children. After the death of her husband, she must assert herself as a single mother in the patriarchal world of her tribe. Despite all these challenges, she refuses to remarry and teaches her children to have dignity, integrity, respect for traditions, and a fighting spirit. Yet her daughter, the first-person narrator, finds herself in a constant struggle with her mother, since she is growing up as a modern girl and can scarcely reconcile the traditional values of her homeland with those of French society. This fight becomes her career as she develops into a successful boxer. In her novel, Cissoko opts for sentences that are clear as glass and can sometimes have a painfully cutting effect. She occasionally weaves quotes in the West African Bambara language into the novel and gives the mother’s character a unique, extremely vivid voice. »From the daughter of a single mother from Mali to world boxing champion, political scientist, and author: that is the impressive life of Aya Cissoko, who holds a mirror up to France as a country of immigration and shows what kinds of cultural battles happen behind the inconspicuous faces of dark-skinned women« (»AVIVA«).

The author lives in Paris.