Narratives of Catastrophe tells the story of the relationship between catastrophe, in the senses of "down turn" and "break," and narration as "recounting" in the senses suggested by the French term récit in selected texts by three leading writers from Africa.
Qader's book begins by exploring the political implications of narrating catastrophic historical events. Through careful readings of singular literary texts on the genocide in Rwanda and on Tazmamart, a secret prison in Morocco under the reign of Hassan II, Qader shows how historical catastrophes enter language and how this language is marked by the catastrophe it recounts. Not satisfied with the extra-literary characterizations of catastrophe in terms of numbers, laws, and naming, she investigates the catastrophic in catastrophe, arguing that catastrophe is always an effect of language andthought,. The récit becomes a privileged site because the difficulties of thinking and speaking about catastrophe unfold through the very movements of storytelling.
This book intervenes in important ways in the current scholarship in the field of African literatures. It shows the contributions of African literatures in elucidating theoretical problems for literary studies in general, such as storytelling's relationship to temporality, subjectivity, and thought. Moreover, it addresses the issue of storytelling, which is of central concern in the context of African literatures but still remains limited mostly to the distinction between the oral and the written. The notion of récit breaks with this duality by foregrounding the inaugural temporality of telling and of writing as repetition.
The final chapters examine catastrophic turns within the philosophical traditions of the West and in Islamic thought, highlighting their interconnections and differences.
Nasrin Qader —
Nasrin Qader is Assistant Professor of French at Northwestern University.
Qader, Nasrin. Narratives of catastrophe: Boris Diop, ben Jelloun, Khatibi. Fordham University, 2009. 238p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780823230488. Reviewed in 2010apr CHOICE.
A powerful emerging scholarly voice in West African literary criticism, Qader (French, Northwestern Univ.) offers a provocative study of a contemporary theme, catastrophe. She probes its manifestations and centrality in African traditions of storytelling, and its comparative relatedness to its written form, the récit. In offering a comprehensive analysis of three major writers--Tahar Ben Jelloun, Boubacar Boris Diop, and Abdelkebir Khatibi--the author brings new understanding to their work and bridges (and corrects misconceptions about) African traditions of orality and written forms of storytelling. But this poignant study is as much philosophical treatise on the physical and psychological effects of catastrophic violence as it is reflective analysis or explication de texte. Qader finds truth and meaning in the overarching power of the written word. Her exact prose imitates the explosive language of the texts she studies, providing contextual references on the effects of storytelling. For Qader, the ideas of time and space make real the accounting of mental and physical suffering. Masterful in its exposé of significant texts, this study raises more questions than it answers, particularly on the role of memory in storytelling and feminist intervention and reinvention in the récit. Extensive footnotes and excellent bibliography.
Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty. -- A. J. Guillaume Jr., Indiana University South Bend