A new English translation of French-Senegalese author Sylvie Kandé’s collection of poetry is out. The collection is titled The Neverending Quest for the Other Shore: An Epic in Three Cantos and was published by the Wesleyan University Press on March 8, 2022.
Kandé is a poet and an historian. She launched the Francophone studies program at NYU and currently teaches as at SUNY, Old Westbury. She has authored three other poetry collections. The french edition of The Neverending Quest is her second poetry collection. The most recent collection, titled Gestuaire, was short-listed for the Prix Kowalski des Lycéens and received the Prix Louise Labé in 2017.
The Neverending Quest was translated by Alexander Dickow, a poet, translator, scholar, and an associate professor of French at Virginia Tech. He has translated works by Gustave Roud, Henri Droguet, Max Jacob, and others.
The Neverending Quest for the Other Shore is a long poem in which contemporary migration accounts intersect with the legend of Abubakar II. Abubakar II is a 14th-century Emperor of Mali. Legend says he sailed West toward the new world and never returned. Kandé’s poems blend history with myth, beautifully interweaving the identity of contemporary migrants with this ancient hero Abubakar II.
By the end of the first canto, we see the central character encountering sea monsters and a harsh natural environment that leaves them shipwrecked. As the hero “plunges his versatile soul/under the waves’ surrounding stridency” he sees a number of things, but namely the “cities of the dead” where rice is being cooked “for the smothered sailors of shipwreck.” In recent years, we have seen scores of news articles about shipwrecked African migrants dying at sea while trying to go to Europe. Kandé’s epic imagines the failed voyage of Abubakar II in the light of contemporary accounts about migration. Instead of a solely tragic representation of the plights of migrants, the poem paints individuals who have died trying to find a better life for themselves as apart of this majestic, heroic journey, though one shadowed by tragedy.
Kandé’s collection contributes to a rich collection of writing shining a light on the African immigrant experience: Chika Unigwe’s trio of short stories in Better Never than Late, which presents Nigerian migrants attempting to migrate to Europe, Juan Tomas Ávila Laurel’s fictional account of African immigrants stuck in a no-man’s land between Spain and Morocco in Gurugu Pledge, as well as Salimah Valiani’s poetry collection 29 leads to love, which is organized around love, history, movement, migration, loss, and healing, might be interested in this collection.
Paol Keineg, Professor Emeritus of Romance Studies at Duke University, praises the originality of the collection: “Sylvie Kandé, through the telling of a legendary African expedition, has forged for herself a unique language, open, daring, off the beaten track. She is truly an original, writing at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and America.”
Read a note from the publisher and see buying options below:
Dazzling in its scope, the poem swings between epic stylization, griot storytelling, and colloquial banter, capturing an astonishing range of human experience. Kandé makes of the migrant a new hero, a future hero whose destiny has not yet taken shape, whose stories are still waiting to be told in their fullness and grandeur: the neverending quest has only just begun.
Buy The Neverending Quest for the Other Shore: Amazon