Fatou Diome was born on Niodior, an island off the coast of Senegal in 1968. She grew up with her grandmother and, despite difficult circumstances, managed to attend school, learning French – the language of her later works. She left her village at the age of thirteen in order to go to secondary school in the nearest city. Up until the start of her degree course in Dakar she lived with three foster families in different cities. In 1990 she met a Frenchman working in Senegal and married him four years later, going back to France with him that same year, where she experienced racism even from her own parents in law. Following her divorce she embarked on a literature degree in Strasbourg, financed by cleaning jobs.
Self-determination, exile and ostracism are the main themes in Diome’s work. Following a collection of short stories and a novella, she published her first novel, »Le Ventre de l’Atlantique« (Eng. »The Belly of the Atlantic«, 2006), in 2003. She achieved international recognition for the work, winning the Prix des Hémisphères Chantal Lapicque, the LiBeraturpreis and the young readers’ book prize of the »Jury der jungen Leser«. The largely autobiographical story-line tells of a young African immigrant in France who bonds with her younger brother, the latter having remained in Senegal, as they simultaneously watch football on television. She tries to talk him out of his unrealistic dreams of a career as a footballer in France. Through vivid language full of humour, irony and filmic immediacy, her thorough and sophisticated critique makes apparent the causes and conditions of suppression. »I had had enough of the clichés: immigration is not only about the exploitation of poor people. It’s also about people who leave in order to emancipate themselves, who leave in the name of freedom and who leave for an abundance of other reasons.« In this respect, the critique not only focuses on Europe, but also on Africa, where the protagonist experiences the disapproval of the village community because of being illegitimate, as well as the restrictions of a solidified tradition, as people mistrust their own strength.
The fusion of a conversational tone and a characteristic, educative style, of suspense and poetry, colour and reflection also mark out Diome’s second novel, »Kétala« (2006). The work presents the eight days between the death of an emigrant returned from Europe and the traditional sharing out of her possessions. At this time everyday objects that have been left behind interact to tell the story of their former owner. Thus a kaleidoscopic image of a life emerges, caught between tradition and modernity, rebellion and degradation, Africa and Europe.
Fatou Diome teaches Literature at the University of Strasbourg where she is also working towards a doctorate.
© international literature festival berlin