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God's Bits of Wood (1960)

av Ousmane Sembène

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585931,109 (3.93)71
In 1947 the workers on the Dakar-Niger Railway came out on strike. Throughout this novel, written from the workers' perspective, the community social tensions emerge, and increase as the strike lengthens. The author's other novels include Xala and Black Docker.
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Gripping recounting of the pivotal 1947-48 strike on the Dakar-Niger railway that was a turning point in West African independence. The black African railway men strike to demand basic equality with white European workers, simple things such as pensions, back pay and family allowances that have always been granted to Europeans. The strike is suppressed with a callousness and brutality that will unsurprising to anyone with a passing familiarity of the international labor movement. Not content with seeing how long the strikers can last without pay, the colonial establishment even cuts off electricity and in a particularly cruel twist, water to the workers and their families.

As one of the wives notes, “Real misfortune is not just a matter of being hungry and thirsty; it is a matter of knowing that there are people who want you to be hungry and thirsty – and that is the way it is with us.” One of the ways that I think this story compares favorably to roughly contemporaneous works by Steinbeck or Orwell is the highlighting of the pivotal role that the women played in the struggle. They stepped forward in a way that was revolutionary in a traditional Muslim society and I can’t help but wonder if they were able to hold on to their gains in the aftermath or suffered a backsliding in rights after the dust settled.

Sembène’s large cast of characters are all finely drawn individuals without a single stock character to be found. Even the French colonial officials are allowed their individual quirks and motivations, indeed the only completely unsympathetic person in the whole book was a sadistic prison commandant. And even the commandant may have only been drawn that way in order to allow his victims a moral choice of how far they would let hate and the yearning for vengeance rule them after the resolution of the strike. You have to love a story where a traditional elderly devout Muslim man and an independent young woman of “easy virtue” can be equally inspirational.


( )
  KateVz | Jan 13, 2016 |
La lucha de los trabajadores del ferrocarril por mejorar sus condiciones de vida. Las mujeres de los trabajadores se unen en una marcha hasta la capital del país. ( )
  alberto_lamana | Oct 15, 2013 |
[God’s Bits of Wood] by Sengalese writer [[Sembene Ousmane] was first published in 1960. It is about the Dakar-Niger railway strike on 1947-48. The book has a political message, but is more than that.

I read this book for the Francophone theme in the Reading Globally group. It was written in French, but feels less “French” and more African compared to some of the other books I have read from this challenge. Ousmane’s style reminds me of Achebe, with it’s focus on community norms and the community story, and in the concrete story-telling mode. For example:

“It was an afternoon in med-October, at the end of the season of rains, and as was the custom at this time of day the women of the Bakayoko house were gathered in the courtyard. Only the women. As they went about their household tasks they chattered constantly, each of them completely indifferent to what the others were saying. Seated a little apart, with her back against the hard, clay wall, was old Niakoro. “

I enjoyed reading this book. The style is accessible and I grew to really care about the characters and the outcome of the strike. This book enhanced my respect for early labor leaders: the suffering for the strikers and their families was intense, but they were able to persevere.

The role of women in a traditional Moslem society is one of the major themes of this book. Women and men live in parallel worlds, which is one of the reasons, I think, that polygamy can work. As the story unfolds, we see the women taking more power and becoming more active in the strike. ( )
  banjo123 | Sep 8, 2013 |
An historical novel about the railway workers' strike on the Niger-Dakar Railroad, of the struggles between the railroad workers against their French colonial employers. Showcasing the poverty and oppression of the African workers and their families, the workers realize that they need to unite if they are to successful gain economic and social equality for themselves. This is a really powerful and lyrical work that is both disturbing as it is inspirational. ( )
2 rösta cameling | Mar 10, 2013 |
This book grew on me as I read it: at first it seemed like a relatively straightforward account, with political overtones, of a strike on the Dakar-Niger railway in 1947-1948, in which the African workers demanded higher wages, pensions, and more from the colonial French managers, but gradually I was drawn in by the perceptive portraits of a whole variety of characters and the more subtle interactions among them and by the portrait of changes in the society as the impact of western "civilization" made itself felt on traditional ways of life. As other reviewers have noted, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way the women take on new power as the story develops. Ousmane portrays not only the suffering caused by the strike, but also the suffering that made the strike necessary, and the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women who must deal with the consequences of the strike. He also illustrates the complex relationship between the colonizers and the colonized, some of whom take pride in having learned French, and how to read and write, while resenting the fact that they must speak French to the French, who have never taken the time to learn the African languages spoken by the people they control. Although the French characters are not as fully developed as the African ones, they too differ from each other and narrowly escape being stereotypes.

Ousmane immigrated to France where he became a union organizer and a member of the Communist party. At times in this book the political message borders on the obvious, but for the most part this is a story of people struggling to put food and water on the table and live in dignity.
3 rösta rebeccanyc | Jan 1, 2012 |
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Författarens namnRollTyp av författareVerk?Status
Sembène, OusmaneFörfattareprimär författarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Boahen, A. AduInledningmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Jokinen, LeenaÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Price, FrancisÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Ristarp, JanÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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In 1947 the workers on the Dakar-Niger Railway came out on strike. Throughout this novel, written from the workers' perspective, the community social tensions emerge, and increase as the strike lengthens. The author's other novels include Xala and Black Docker.

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