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Editorial Note: 

This issue of the magazine is devoted to an excerpt from the 2014 novel Coming and Going (originally Aller et Retour) by Ken Bugul (the pen name of Senegalese Francophone writer Mariètou Mbaye Biléoma). This text has been translated by Julianna Blair Watson and Hugo Bujon, who have also contributed the introductory essay below.


Ken Bugul is most known for her trilogy of autobiographical novels composed of Le Baobab fou, Cendres et braises and Riwan ou le chemin des sables. The first book of this trilogy remains her only work translated into English (as The Abandoned Baobab), despite her world-wide acclaim and multiple translations in other languages. LEAN has offered the opportunity to reintroduce Ken Bugul to the English-speaking world through her later work. Starting with La folie et la mort, the work of Ken Bugul has focused more and more on collectivities – be it Senegalese youth, the inhabitants of Dakar, or African migrants – in texts that blend fiction, autobiography, geography, history, social commentary, and journalism. This shift in focus has accompanied a shift in form toward multifocalization, stream of consciousness, constant ellipses and paralipsis, multilingualism, palimpsests, and so on. Her techniques and writing challenge not only what tends to be conceived as African and/or Francophone literature, but what literature is as a whole. From a West African perspective, her works are as much a new literature as they are a return to West African, and particularly Wolof, literary practices.


Coming and Going is a paragon of Bugul’s second wave of work. On the face of it, this “novel” tells the story of a young woman’s quest to find her lost brother in 1980’s Dakar. The young woman, Ngoné, is joined by her friend, Bigué. But, if Coming and Going is marked by soliloquies of Bigué to Ngoné, the book constantly pushes aside this somehow noir plot and its two “main” characters to give space to another voice, the voice of the narrator. Instead of a noir investigation, this voice tells a story of Dakar and of Senegal more generally. In its relentless flow, this voice merges and splits collective and personal memories, Western literature and African literature, recitation and improvisation, individual voice and collective voices, places and generations of Senegalese poets. Storytelling and commentary about geography, economy, religion, philosophy, psychology spin, clash and blend. At the heart of this story is the moment when Senegal’s independence was first anticipated by French president Général De Gaulle at the end of the 1950s. This moment nevertheless appears as a point in a longer Senegalese colonial history and fight for freedom and sovereignty whose heart, for Ken Bugul, is Cheikh Amadou Bamba, alluded to as “Bamba” in the text, and the religious Sufi order he founded, the Mouride.


Who or what exactly is this voice (or even if it is singular or plural) remains open, but in this voice, Wolof takes over the French: the most obvious example of this would be Dakar being called Ndakaaru, white men “toubab,” and white women “toubabesse.” For this reason, when the text incorporates literal translations of Wolof words or phrases into French, we have translated them literally into English as well. Further, we have rendered names as they appear in the text and have left the Wolof words in Wolof, keeping them in the spelling of the original version of Coming and Going. We have created a small lexicon found after the text to help with comprehension. The translation that follows corresponds to the first four sections of Coming and Going. These sections are unabridged.

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