Nimrod: Les jambes d’Alice [The Legs of Alice]
This novel is set in Chad during the Civil War in that country in 1979. The nameless hero/narrator is a teacher in N’Djamena, as the civil war breaks out and seems to be getting worse. He is married to Maureen and they have a daughter. He is also a sensualist. We learn, later in the book, of his sensuality, his lust for the feminine – for his wife, his sister-in-law, his former girlfriends and even, on one occasion, his mother’s breasts. As the title of this book shows, the object of his lust is, this time, Alice. Alice and Harlem are basketball players at the school where he teaches, both aged eighteen, though Alice will celebrate her nineteenth birthday during the course of the book. He had watched them playing basketball for some time, purely out of lust. Now things are getting really bad in N’Djamena and everyone is fleeing the capital, our hero included. He seems to be relatively unconcerned that he is abandoning his wife and daughter but, nevertheless, sets off. He sees Alice and Harlem and follows them. He is fascinated by the bodies of the two young women. Alice is 1.79 metres tall (a bit over 5 feet 10 inches), while Harlem is seven centimetres taller. As he follows them, he cannot help but admire their bodies, though he has long admired Alice’s feet and legs. As he points out, she is the first woman about whom he has had a leg and foot fetish. He gets his car and offers the two women a lift. After a while, Harlem asks to be let out, as she is meeting friends. Alice and our hero drive on.
He is soon having sex with her and gives us a fairly detailed description. But the war is following them and, eventually, they find a hotel where there are no other guests. The owner, Jean, whom they soon call Uncle Jean, agrees to put them up and gives them daily updates on the development of the war. Our hero and Alice have a lively relationship – she is particularly annoyed when he admires the full figure of her cousin, Evariste, or the beer seller at the market – but they carry on together over several weeks. They visit her grandfather and her parents. They go the night market at Laï, which is very lively when they first go but will later be abandoned. But things are not working out too well. Our hero is starting to get bored with Alice and the war is encroaching, with Libyan troops invading. When an old friend, Captain Doubaye, turns up at the hotel in a tank, our hero goes off with him, leaving Alice to Jean.
Others have called this novel poetical and it certainly is written in something of a more poetic French. However, lust, for that is what it is, is not in itself poetic and our hero’s lust for women is neither poetic nor, frankly, particularly interesting. We get considerable descriptions of his activities with the various women in his life but they are fairly predictable. That a man would abandon his wife and daughter for a pretty leg in a civil war might have something mildly romantic about it but it is also more than a little irresponsible. This book is not a bad read but it certainly is not a classic of African literature.
First published Hatier in 1984
No English translation