Abdulai Sila’s new book is a gift. It really is. African literature is spread across linguistic regions that are pretty much culturally cut off from each other. This means that the vast majority of interesting literary work coming out of the French-, Portuguese-, and Spanish-speaking parts of Africa never make their way to those of us who read mainly in English. That’s why we are beyond excited about Sila’s new book. It’s the first novel by an author from Guinea-Bissau to be translated into English.
Books like these are important. They change the way we think and talk about African fiction. They refine our taste for African writing. The more we are exposed to different forms of African storytelling the more we appreciate the diversity in African literary forms.
The Ultimate Tragedy was originally published in 1995. It tells the story of an ill-fated girl named Ndani. After a medicine man reveals that her future will be a string of disasters, she tries to change the cause of her life by moving to the city. But of course, you already know that her attempt to escape her tragic fate will be way more complicated than she imagined. Intriguing plot!
Here is the full synopsis:
The first novel ever to be translated into English from Guinea Bissau, The Ultimate Tragedy is a tale of love and emerging political awareness in an Africa beginning to challenge Portuguese colonial rule. Ndani leaves her village to seek a better life in the capital, finding work as a maid for a Portuguese family. The mistress of the house, Dona Deolinda, embarks on a mission to save Ndani’s soul through religious teaching, but the master of the house has less righteous intentions.
Ndani is expelled from the house and drifts towards home, where she becomes the wife of a village chief. He has built a mansion and a school to flaunt his power to the local Portuguese administrator, but he abandons Ndani when he finds she’s not a virgin. She eventually finds love with the school’s teacher, but in tumultuous times, making a future with an educated black man involves a series of hurdles. By turns humorous, heartrending and wise, The Ultimate Tragedy is a captivating novel that brings this little-known country to colourful, vivid life.
Sila is a record-breaking novelist. It is remarkable enough that The Ultimate Tragedy, Sila’s second novel, is the first Bissau-Guinean novel to appear in English. But did you know that Sila’s first novel, titled Eterna Paixao and published in 1994, is also the first ever novel published in Guinea Bissau?
The Ultimate Tragedy was translated by Jethro Soutar. On her site, A Year of Reading the World, Ann Morgan reveals that Soutar was inspired to translate the novel after he found out that there was no novel from Guinea-Bissau in English. Kudos to Soutar for taking on such a project.
Congrats to Sila and Dedalus Books for gifting the world of Anglophone literature with such a beautiful book.
The London launch of The Ultimate Tragedy will take place at the 2017 Africa Writes Festival. Click here to see how you can attend the event.