Title: As the Crow Flies
Author: Veronique Tadjo
Translator: Wangui wa Goro
Original Language: French
Publishers: Heinemann (AWS)
Year of First Publication: 2001
Country: Cote d'Ivoire
As the Crow Flies is a love story of some sorts. The story is a cascade of individual stories capable of standing on their own as shown by one thread which was published under the title Betrayal in the Opening Spaces edited by Yvonne Vera.
The story opens with a woman whose husband also has a wife. Initially, she was happy; her heart was filled with joy. Then things began to change and she was not happy anymore. There was a detachment, somewhat. And she applied for a divorce. The coming of this woman, from abroad, to meet this man interspersed several sections of the story. Thus, as if the story is diverting from some course, which it always did, then suddenly the woman at an airport comes up.
From this somewhat love story, Tadjo presented us with a commentary of happenings around the world,happenings as she reads from the newspapers. Through this she also presents the reader with some of the idiosyncrasies of Western life such as the fear of getting fat even when she was gobbling ice-creams. There are also several political critiques in this story. Tadjo provides a scathing analyses of our present life. She writes:
It is definitely a century that hands its head in shame. Our elders have been called impotent, and we are accused of being 'limp' ... Indeed, the town lost its scent a long time ago. We are all sick and tired of suffocation, of this monarch lording it over his people. Everybody can feel that this is a sterile century. Even love is finding it hard to thrive.
Suddenly, there is a comparison of life in Africa and the US which morphed into a girl who is pregnant and in search of a place to abort the baby. Through similar picturesque descriptions Tadjo presented us with the rot in our society, the unlove, the non-love, the difficulties, the wickedness. All the stories had to do with love and its numerous manifestations or non-manifestations. There was an old beggar who killed a young boy for occupying his space and attracting his clients. Thus, in Tadjo's world or in the world she painted, love is not far from rot and the opposites live with each other. The rot manifests from the unlove we show and from the non-loved we have. And as the story switches from scene to scene, the narrative style also changes with it. There are places where it is the first person 'I'. At other places there is the second person and the omniscient narrator were also used and there are places where the narrator addresses the reader.
One thing that is clear is the poetic flow of the write. Reading this reminded me of Mia Couto, not his ultra-refined sentences with all its inversions, but his style of storytelling and his visions which breaks boundaries and the seeming magical nature of his characters for in Tadjo's world all these converge, with beauty. Tadjo knows her subject. Regarding the rot in society she writes:
I want to talk about the death of a pregnant woman in that suffocating part of the city. The architect had not been entirely honest and the contractor negligent.
This particular strand hammers on shoddy works - is it to get more profit? - and its ultimate end. This particular one caused explosion of the toilet pipes and death of people. This same story became a comment on rapid population growth and limited public amenities, as people packed themselves into a bus at bursting point, and again suddenly morphed into a subtle argument for abortion when:
Young girls, muttering inaudible words, contort their bodies on the hospital floor. One of them looks especially young.
Then the love story comes in again. A man who has been betrayed decides to taken vengeance on all women.
Somewhere, a young man wallows in his suffering - his wound so deep he cannot draw a distinction between love and destruction. ... His pain is so great that he wants to punish all women, but I tell him, 'No, love is the colour of hope. Bitter today, sweet tomorrow. You should not throw away your wealth of tenderness and let the honey-filled caresses dry up. Do not be wicked just to prove who you are, just to expose your wounds to the skies.'
To show the other sides of love, the narrative leads us to a boy (or a man) who was visiting his mother after a long period of absence and estrangement. And this occurred when the woman was on his deathbed. The duality of Tadjo's world is negatively. So that even though 'the city dazzled with bright lights and shimmered with wonders ... one false move would lead to mud and filth'. Again, he showed the inner rot, the poverty that has been plastered with an ostentatious show of superficial wealth, wealth which run shallow. Consequently,
Although people wore gold, if you just turned your head you would see the poor in tatters and the street children. If you came off the brightly lit streets and ventured further out, you would find yourself choking on the dust of abandoned tracks. ... The worst part is it was that the inhabitants had lost hope.This vision is found in all major cities, especially across the developing world where stupendous wealth exists side by side with abject poverty and a showy of mendicancy. It is visions like these that turn the narrator into a vaticinator prophesying the destruction of the oppressed and warning the oppressors whilst pointing out the oppressors, those who squeeze out the wealth from the society for themselves because they have not love, because they think not of the other but of themselves and their bellies; To them
I say, 'Be wary of those cheques with lots of noughts, though big-bellied bank accounts, and black lacquered Mercedes.' Your gardens will be trampled upon, your sacred altars under siege, and your fetish idols beheaded. Your houses will crumble. Your books will be strewn on the ground, and your famous thinkers condemned. All traces of your footsteps will be erased and your chests will be pierced with poisoned arrows on abandoned beaches.
The stories are beautifully written and reads like poetry. In fact, interspersed are pieces of poems. Though they are disjointed the theme of love, humanity, the results of unlove, of egoism, of individualism run through. This theme is not different from Tadjo's non-fiction work on the Rwandan crises The Shadow of Imana.
This is recommended to anyone who would want to try a different kind of African story and at only 104 pages, it does not burden the mind; yet, the reader would leave with something.
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