Boubacar Boris Diop was born in 1946 in Dakar, Senegal, where he attended a French school. Before completing secondary education he described his experiences with racism in a novel, which was never published. When he was 20 he adopted a middle name, taken from a young Russian immigrant in Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel »Les chemins de la liberté«. After completing a degree in Literature and Philosophy he started teaching at a grammar school in Saint-Louis, in northern Senegal. Here he began to focus his attention on Marxist theory and founded an anti-colonial club which organized different events including dances, or ‘bals rouges’, accompanied by political speeches. In 1981 Diop published his first novel, ‘Le temps de Tamango’ which won the Prix du Bureau Sénégalais du Droit d’Auteur. He went on to work in journalism for Senegalese daily newspapers and radio stations. In addition to further novels he wrote plays, scripts, short stories and literary essays. Diop received the Grand prix de la République du Sénégal pour les Lettres for his second novel, ‘Les tambours de la mémoire’,published in 1990.
On the initiative of journalists Nocky Djedanoum and Maimouna Coulibaly, Diop went to Kigali for two months in 1998 to take part in the “Rwanda: écrire par devoir de mémoire” project along with other artists. Diop’s novel, ‘Murambi, le livre des ossements’ is based on accounts by survivors of the Tutsi genocide in 1994, when almosthalf a million people were killed.
Diop presents a genuine link between European and African narrative traditions based on ‘authentic’ African legends, as his mother ritually claimed. ‘Novel’ is an inaccurate term for this genre. His works deal repeatedly with the manipulation of history through myths. The claim that reality and fiction cannot be clearly separated takes form in a complex structure of time frames and narrative threads. This does not apply to ‘Murambi’, however. “I made this novel as simple as possible by not worrying too much about formal devices, aesthetics or peculiarities in narrative style”, Diop stated in an interview.
“I want young people to be able to read, understand and discuss it.” Because he believes in the magical forces of symbolism but does not want to allow the reader to escape into a certainty that the story is far-fetched, Diop has only incorporated accounts which were verified by third parties. According to the author, the real issue in genocide reappraisal is not finding the right words, but the danger that outsiders will suspect that survivors tend to exaggerate.
The author lives in Dakar and has been writing for ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’ for several years. He recently published the novel ‘Kaveena’ (2006) and a collection of essays, ‘L’Afrique au-delà du miroir’ (2007).
© international literature festival berlin