Riwan; or, the Sandy Track – Ken Bugul

Ken Bugul has entered my list of favorite authors.

I’ve read this book years ago, in French, when I took a class about Sub-Saharan francophone literature, and of all of the books we’ve read, this one really moved me.

In short, very short, it is a fiction novel but has a lot of auto-biographical elements. In the book, the narrator/main character is in her thirties, and after studying in Europe and living a western life, she is back to Senegal. She then proceeds to marry a Serigne, a spiritual leader. She becomes the 28th wife of the Serigne.

Polygamy is a complicated subject, and this book depicts the conflict the main character has with it. “I wanted to become a women loaded with diplomas… my education pushed me in that direction … At school I was taught that men of my village were savages who did not know good manners, made love with brutality, did not respect women.” (p.39) She grew up with colonialist ideals, trying to reject the traditionalist view of marriage.

In real life, Ken Bugul has been in a polygamist marriage too, the 20th wife of a Serigne. Many American feminists have been criticizing Ken Bugul for this marriage.

This is a must-read for everyone that wants to understand the impact of colonization on women in Senegal today.