By Abdourahman A. Waberi, trans. David and Nicole Ball
Indiana University Press, part of the Global African Voices series
Transit, by the Djibouti-born Waberi, which tells of a war-torn, drought-ravaged Djibouti that's bleeding refugees, is not a light read in terms of subject matter or execution.
It's structured as a series of monologues that don't connect until a brilliant collision at the end of the novel, some delivered by an adolescent ex-soldier from the country's civil war, others by members of a family of Djiboutian intellectuals with nomadic ancestry. It was translated from the French for Indiana University Press by David and Nicole Ball, veteran renderers of Waberi's work.
Bashir, the young ex-soldier, nicknames himself "Binladen" for the sheer shock value. He speaks in an energetic dialect that takes some getting used to, and has a dark sense of humor and a strong sense of self-preservation. Both served to keep him alive through war, drug use and hunger.
Through Bashir's simple, direct observations, we see a country rife with corruption and hopelessness. Despite the horrors he recounts, his chapters are funny. His scathing verbal sketches of politicians and history are uncluttered by formal education, and are perhaps more honest because of his political naiveté.
Each member of the family unit speaks eloquently in his or her own way. They don't share Bashir's violent past, but they do have a deep understanding of the issues troubling their nation. Through Awaleh, the grandfather, we find a connection to the past and tradition; through Abdo-Julien and Alice, the son and French-born wife, we see diversity and tolerance; and through Harbi, we get stream-of-consciousness images of exile and escape that eventually tie the family to Bashir.