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So Distant From My Life by Monique Ilboudo

One of the Observer’s fiction picks for 2022

Winner of a PEN Heim award

To deter me, my uncle spoke to me about roots. A line of argument that I found absurd. Even plants are intelligent enough to grow around stones, seeking the best soil for their roots underground.

Jeanphi, a young man from the fictional West African city Ouabany, has one obsession that will determine the fate of his life – migration. He scrapes together money to take the illegal route across the Sahara, making it as far as Morocco before being repatriated. Increasingly desperate, Jeanphi meets an elegant French widower who for his part is despairing at the insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles for his charitable endeavour in Jeanphi’s country. A window opens to opportunity – but it will also bring tragedy.

Burkinabé by Monique Ilboudo’s novel offers a compelling and complex portrait of migration, one of the defining global concerns of the twenty-first century, and a sharp critique of both the NGO-isation of African countries and the currents of shame that divide communities and families. Yarri Kamara has rendered Ilboudo’s text in an idiom that conveys the sharp humour, lucid descriptions and urgency of the original.

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Monique Ilboudo

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