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Moussa Ould Ebnou: L’amour impossible [Impossible Love]

Mauritania is probably not the first place you would look for a science fiction novel but this just what Moussa Ould Ebnou has written. It is a bit in the mould of Brave New World with a few touches of 1984, though there are other science fiction novels with which it could also be compared, such as Kallocain and Мы (We). Suffice to say that, apart from some of the early parts, there is no way that you would guess that this is a Mauritanian or even an African novel.

The society in which the novel is set has invented a way for non-sexual reproduction, a kind of generalised test tube baby where neither men nor women are needed for reproduction. Moreover, it is now easy to determine the sex of babies before they are”born”. However, this has led to complications. Some women continue to have the baby implanted in them and then delivered in the old-fashioned way. Some men, though far fewer, do the same. (The biology of this is not really explained.) Some men use women specially for this purpose. However, there are generally no longer couples in the traditional manner and, indeed, men and women tend to live apart. One of the complications is that when a new baby is to be created, men want boys and women girls. (Again this seems dubious.) Finally, a system is set up with equal rights for both groups. In addition, there is also a mixed sex unit to allow for traditional sexual reproduction, provided only that it is purely sexual. Love and affection between the sexes is strictly forbidden as, of course, they cause too many problems. This is the situation early on in the novel.

The practice is for adolescents who are ready and willing to be introduced to the mixed sex unit, where they get to know one another, have sex and move on. When we meet the young man who is about to be introduced to this unit and learn that his name is Adam, we can guess that something is going to happen. Her name is not Eve (we meet Eva later but not in the way we might expect) but Malinké. The two meet and, surprise!, fall in love. The rest of the novel is about how the authorities try to break their love and whether they can outsmart the authorities. In short, will it be a happy or unhappy ending? Once their terrible crime is found out (and it is a terrible crime under their laws), the authorities first try to separate them by pairing them off with a different partner. Adam is paired off with Soho. She is both very sexy and very buxom and Adam is very much attracted to her. However, he still loves Malinké and she still loves him. At this point the authorities raise the stakes. The pair are moved to a re-education camp and various means are tried to make them no longer be in love. The techniques used are psychology (various forms), drugs and even enforced homosexuality. We get a lot of details of these methods which while cruel do not, with one minor exception, use physical violence.

Understandably, the pair (separately) try to resist. They lie, they acquiesce (briefly), they refuse to accept that one cannot be allowed to love, they openly rebel. But as in the science fiction books mentioned above, the authorities are generally going to be stronger. But, instead of a straightforward 1984 or Brave New World ending, Ebnou allows for a very clever twist that while somewhat outrageous just about works. Yes, it is a science fiction novel but Ebnou is a skilful enough writer to make it as worthwhile as its much better-known predecessors.

Publishing history

First published in 1990 by Editions L’Harmattan
No English translation