Ansomwin Ignace Hien: Une flamme dans le noir [A Flame in the Dark]
While the title gives little away this is a story of love gone wrong. We start with an architect (not named, though we quickly guess who he is) who has been in a village and fallen in love with a young woman he has seen there. The only problem is that he is soon to depart for France to study for five years. He hopes that she will wait for him.
We jump many years ahead, where we meet Simon, an architect – we soon guess the same one as at the beginning. Simon is in his forties, works for the government as an architect and is well off. He is not married and never has been, though he does seem to have various affairs. He also visits a family in a village on a regular basis. They are a young couple with a daughter, Dolorès, who is doing very well at school. Indeed she is top of her class at the primary level and wants to go on to the secondary level. Unfortunately, that costs money and the family has no money, not least because they would have to send her away as there is no secondary school nearby. Her father suggests that she should be considering getting married.
At this point, Simon steps in. He offers to pay for her schooling, send her to one in Abidjan and, as it is quite a bit away from where he lives, pay for a flat for her, which he does. Once she arrives, he takes her out regularly to show her the sights. One day, he takes her to a night club, something she has never seen before and she is afraid but amazed at the same time. She has also never drunk alcohol so is soon drunk. It is too late to take her to her flat, so he takes her home, helps her get undressed and rapes her.
Simon was now forty-five and was considering settling down and getting married. He had considered marrying his girlfriend, Inès, but when he hears that Dolorès is pregnant, he sends a go-between to Dolorès’ parents, asking for her hand. They accept but she does not, as she wants to continue her education. After a lot of effort, Simon persuades her to accept, promising that she can continue her education.
We jump ahead seven years. Dolorès did continue her education for a while but then temporarily abandoned it when she gave birth. She never returned. She now has a second child. She also owns her own clothes shop. The rest of the book is what this book is really about. Dolorès catches Simon not once but twice in an affair. She herself becomes friendly with her own dressmaker and his family. (Interestingly enough the novel is set primarily in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast and Simon and Dolorès are both Ivoirien. Her dressmaker, Jules, and his family, with whom she becomes very close, are from Burkina Faso, Hien’s home country). She starts an affair with Jules. She later learns that both his parents are polygamous. He knows that she is married. She thinks that he is single. He is not.
Not only do we have a series of murky affairs, both Jules and Simon turn out to have histories that are even murkier. We also get some HIV, a couple of unexpected deaths and all the major characters dead or miserable, virtually none of whom behave well,
It is a grim story, presumably a warning against marital infidelity, unprotected sex and checking out that your partner has no hidden secrets that will come back to hurt you. Still, he does not preach, just tells his story well. Hien’s books have not been translated into any other language and are unlikely to be. Indeed, most of them are difficult to obtain in French.
First published in 2007 by Découvertes du Burkina, Ouagadougou
No English translation