“The Book of Elias”, by Chab, a plunge into the terror of Sahelian terrorism

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Malian Chab Touré.

How to relate the impact of the appearance of terrorism in the Sahelian strip on simple lives? How to say the daily life constricted by fear, the risk-taking that each trip has become in public space, the permanent tension of minds, the pain of hearts in the face of bereavement, the reduction of parties and the pleasure of bodies? It is from these haunting questions that Chab Touré has woven his text, The Book of Elias, published in Mali by La Sahélienne editions.

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A philosopher by training, professor of aesthetics with plastic students, the author was until then known as an emeritus actor of the Malian cultural scene. Presenter and promoter of art, he founded an exhibition space in Bamako (2000-2008), then moved his activity to the center of the country, to Ségou. Before being forced to close because of the security situation, when the separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, allied with jihadist groups, conquered the big cities of northern Mali nine years ago, destabilizing the power in Bamako.

“Since the 2012 crisis in our country, I have an increased awareness of the precariousness of things, he explains. This text imposed itself on me, in its very particular form, whereas until then I had been writing essays, poems or monographs. “

“Some days we waver, we stagger and our heads grow heavy with doubt. The smile of the morning, the bread of the day and the tenderness of the evening are no longer enough. Nothing reassures. Neither the caresses, nor the memories. “

Presented as a novel, the book is about hybrid work, at the crossroads of several genres. The writer deviates from the codes of romance fiction in favor of the images, rhythm and lexicon of poetry. Here no intrigue or action, but rather evocative atmospheres, haloed paintings of dreaminess, written in a language with a musical rhythm.

From sounds, smells, sentences traced like lines of flight, a city emerges, populated by furtive and worried silhouettes: “Elias said: Some days we waver, we stagger and our heads grow heavy with doubt. The smile of the morning, the bread of the day and the tenderness of the evening are no longer enough. Nothing reassures. Neither the caresses, nor the memories. “

The force of the current

The text features different protagonists: Elias the herald; Ha, a man who was killed; his widow Atma who watches over his remains; and finally “The young man with the chèche”, guilty of the death of Hâ. “I didn’t want to give them real first names, explains Chab Touré, but rather short names, which make it possible not to link them to a precise geographical territory. With names like that, you could be in Mali or elsewhere. And so, my characters symbolize this question of identity that so many millions of people are clinging to today, across our planet; a question that limits us and undermines our humanity. “

Another important symbol of the text can be read in the folds of the waterway that crosses the city: “The river Injury”. Representation both of life, because of its perpetual movement, but also of its end, insofar as the force of the current can lead to death. Here too, Chab Touré knowingly translated the ambivalence of the name given to the Niger River in the Bambara language. He is called « djoliba » which means “great wound”.

At the center of the book, in a storm of detonations, screams, sand and blood, an attack by jihadist militias smashes the city: “Blood and fear flowed in the red wind which circled around the city of sands (…). The more it turned, the more its red cloud smelled of death. “ And when calm finally returns, in the sacked city, we imagine the waters of the Wound River reddened by the bodies it carries.

While retaining the finesse of his style, the writer knows how to join reality to clearly express the absolute dismantling that terrorism produces on society: “Doctors, customs officers, clerks and school teachers are abandoning their posts. The soldiers of the Republic desert in the sand of the dunes, leaving the cities and the inhabitants in the hands of the terrorists. In the North, the circles of misery tighten into circles of hell. “

We must accept entering into the mystery of this work, where we do not always manage to know where we are or where we are going, and put aside the blunders forgotten in the editorial work to let ourselves be won over. by its charm. It will work for all readers who, attracted by the force of the river, will let themselves be caught up in the wave of Chab Touré’s words.

It is up to everyone to imagine, following the current impulse, the populations of northern Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel in apnea, caught in the inextricable trap of terrorism and terror. the Book of Elias won the Premier Novel prize awarded by the European Union at the last edition of the “La Rentrée littéraire du Mali” festival, in February 2021. A singular work, like an offering to the world, in response to a nameless offense.

The Book of Elias, by Chab (ed. La Sahélienne, Bamako, 2021).

We would love to give thanks to the author of this article for this outstanding content

“The Book of Elias”, by Chab, a plunge into the terror of Sahelian terrorism