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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Abdourahman A. Waberi

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To purchase Transit

Title: Transit
Author: Abdourahman A. Waberi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 144 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Transit - US
Transit - UK
Transit - Canada
Transit - Canada (French)
Transit - India
Transit - France
Transit - Italia
  • French title: Transit
  • Translated and with a Preface by David and Nicole Ball

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressive command of a variety of voices, an excellent introduction to Djibouti

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Hudson Review . Fall/2012 Tess Lewis
Le Monde diplomatique . 11/2003 Nabo Sène
Publishers Weekly . 27/8/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "These five voices offer distinct views of Djibouti, at times similar, at other times seemingly irreconcilable, and are by turns lyrical, nostalgic, idealizing, satirizing and blisteringly critical of the country's history, politics, culture, and traditions." - Tess Lewis, Hudson Review

  • "La quête de ce personnage nous pousse imperceptiblement à nous interroger sur le sens réel de la notion d'appartenance dans le monde contemporain." - Nabo Sène, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "Steeped in both historical lore and the socio-political realities of the small ex-French colony of Djibouti before and during its 1990s civil war, Waberi’s new collection tells the alternatively inspiring and somewhat laborious tale of Bashir "Binladen"" - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Transit is bookended by a Prologue and an Epilogue set in Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, in Paris, but it is a novel of Djibouti, the small Horn of Africa state that only in 1977 stepped down: "from the high solitude of being the last colonial stronghold", when it became independent from France. Two of the voices from the novel are here in Paris: the youngster Bashir Assoweh -- who recently took to calling himself 'Bashir Binladen', figuring that makes more of an impression (though he does admit that maybe: "it's too-too much, right ?") --, who was born at independence, and Harbi, who has lived in France before and was married to Alice, a woman from Rennes.
       Here in Paris, Harbi notes that he is now: "without Alice, my dear wife, without Abdo-Julien, our only child, without my father, Awaleh" -- but also that:

I have an old debt of memory to settle with France; people think migrants arrive naked in a new land at the end of their odyssey; yet migrants are loaded with their personal stories and heavier still with what is called collective history.
       The novel itself then offers both personal stories and collective history, in the form of brief chapters alternately narrated by Bashir, Abdo-Julien, Alice, and Awaleh. Harbi's own voice only resurfaces in the Epilogue, yet clearly it has been Harbi channeling the now lost voices of his wife, son, and father. Together with brash young Bashir's accounts, the chapters present bits of the Djiboutian experience from very different perspectives.
       Awaleh provides some glimpses of the distant past, and a sense of the transition under colonialism. He reports of resisting "silently, secretly" -- by initially rejecting everything the French were building up, from: "Villages, schools, or cities" to the vaccination campaigns. But inevitably one: "got caught up in the game and first sent a little boy, some orphan, to their school just out of curiosity", only to find that soon everything had changed.
       Alice studied history and journalism, and married the visiting student from Africa -- making for a "domino couple", black and white -- and moved back to his homeland with him, in 1973. They had a son, Abdo-Julien, about the same age as Bashir but: "a little clever for my age, and ahead by a few books". Abdo-Julien's literary references and careful expression also stand in marked contrast to Bashir's very raw language.
       Bashir is an uneducated youth who has spent his life at war. He's all swagger:
I'm wicked and pitiless. I suicided men, enemy Wadags and other men not enemies. I trashed houses, I drilled girls, I pirated shopkeepers. I pooped in the mosque, but don't shout that from rooftops cause I was very pickled.
       Bashir is a good foot soldier, doing as he is ordered, and not questioning what he and his fellow soldiers do. Even as there is a human side to him, his life -- largely because of his situation -- is simply barbaric.
       Abdo-Julien, on the other hand, is entirely the product of civilization -- good schooling, serious books, concerned parents. He finds some rebellion in music, grounded in local tradition -- and imagines: "One day soon we will succeed in fulfilling our dream". But idealism has little chance in this environment -- as also then shown in the fates of these characters, leaving Harbi without his family and a refugee in France.
       Waberi offers impressions of Djibouti here, specific episodes, memories, and insights rather than a slow, carefully built-up overview, yet the sum is considerably more than one might expect in such a short novel, built up in such short chapters. He effectively conveys both the arbitrary and the systematic horror that citizens have faced over many decades, and even if specifics seem often to be addressed only in broad strokes, a great deal is nevertheless conveyed about life under the French, for example, and then the transition to independence and the continuing civil conflicts.
       Impressive, too, is the range of voices. Bashir's, in particular, is a difficult one to translate -- as David and Nicole Ball also note in their Preface -- but the English version of his patter is convincing and effective. The others, too, have distinctive if more conventional voices, and their very different perspectives are well employed in presenting a fuller picture.
       Transit is an impressive text, and a very good introduction to Djibouti.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 November 2012

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Reviews: Abdourahman A. Waberi: Other books by Abdourahman A. Waberi under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       Abdourahman A. Waberi was born in Djibouti in 1965.

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