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Review: The Abandoned Baobab by Ken Bugul

February 27, 2012

The Abandoned Baobab coverTitle: The Abandoned Baobab: The Autobiography of a Senegalese Woman
Author: Bugul, Ken
Length: 159 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Publisher / Year: Lawrence Hill Books / 1984
Source: Better World Books
Rating: 4/5
Why I Read It: It was listed somewhere as a recommended book and I purchased it for that reason, forget where it was listed though.
Date Read: 21/02/12

In this autobiography Bugul talks about growing up in Senegal, about moving to Belgium for school, and about her time in Belgium. Through these experiences we see the effects of colonialism in tearing families apart – in Bugul’s case through her alienation with her family as the only girl sent to school. We see also the culture of Europe and Belgium and how she was exoticized and befriended in certain circles solely for the color of her skin. Through the story Bugul tells truthfully of her descent into drugs and prostitution, and of the myriad forms of racism she encountered.

Ken Bugul is a pen name adopted by Marietou M’Baye to tell this story as the publisher feared the book would generate much backlash. Given the honesty and truthfulness of Bugul through the book in discussing drugs, sex, and prostitution, and the fact that the book was published in 1984, I would say this was a smart decision. The book explains that the name is “a Wolof name meaning “the person no one wants”, which is in effect what Bugul struggles with throughout her childhood and early years in Belgium, a feeling of being unwanted and of not fitting in anywhere.

In the introduction Nikki Giovanni talks about the different experiences lived by African Americans who threw off the chains of slavery and of Africans living through colonialism and the ways that certain actions and life events are interpreted differently and have varying meanings, and yet the ways that the stories are still interconnected. The “choice” in the lives of the African woman means that the results of any action will have different emotional consequences than the lack of choices faced by a slave woman in America.

This was a very interesting read that highlighted the negative effects of foreign culture and how colonialism and missionary school systems effectively drew children away from families and communities, leaving them feeling isolated. It also highlights the extent to which people will go to try to find themselves and fit in through life. Bugul’s story should be praised for its honesty and read by all who are interested in history, in Senegal, in life as a woman.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 1:00 pm

    It sounds like the author was very brave to share her story. What an important book!

  2. February 28, 2012 7:19 am

    I will look for this for my non-fiction reading. I love the forthrightness of this memoir and coming from African and published in 1984 speaks volumes.

    • February 29, 2012 4:25 pm

      Yes, definitely a different read from a lot of what else is available Nana. I hope you can locate it.

  3. February 28, 2012 1:41 pm

    The fact that she had to write this as a man is saddening to me, but at least she got the story out there. It sounds like a story that is rife with portent and that shares the plight of a woman who must represent many like her. Great review today, Amy. This is a book I will be looking for.

    • February 29, 2012 4:26 pm

      No she wrote it as a female zibilee, just with a pen name. It’s written as the autobiography of a Senegalese woman (that’s actually the subtitle!). And yes, great read :)

  4. February 28, 2012 2:23 pm

    This sounds good. I have never heard of it before!

  5. March 1, 2012 8:49 am

    I want to read more memoirs as part of the Africa Reading Challenge. What a story. And the name thing, what stark truth. Still can be hard to process all that. Thanks for the review.

    • March 4, 2012 1:09 pm

      Oh yes there are just too many topics and types of books I want to read more of as part of the challenge Kinna! Have you read this one?

  6. March 9, 2012 5:26 am

    I read the French original years ago, never thought anyone would review this nor was I aware it was translated. I remember I liked it a lot. It’s sad that most Frech African books never get translated to English. It’s like a rift through the continent. I was going to join Kinna but I’m still hesitant because my TBR pile is full of French books… Nobody wants to read reviews of books they can’t read. Maybe I’m wrong?

    • March 10, 2012 4:43 pm

      Very neat Caroline. Definitely an interesting book. I wish more books could be translated as I’m sure there is such a huge amount that we are missing out on! And I know that for me at least I’d still like to hear about the books. It might cause publishers to consider translating them even if we’re lucky :)

  7. Marame permalink
    July 6, 2012 10:27 am

    I am translating her novel Riwan ou le chemin de sable, her most wonderful novel. Wish me luck for the publication.

    • July 7, 2012 11:07 am

      That is amazing Marame, I certainly hope that it is published!


  1. February 2012 Reading Wrap-Up « Amy Reads

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