Seynabou Sonko explores the intricacies of double consciousness in “Demons” –

Demons, Seynabou Sonko’s first novel, explores the richness of multiple identities on the brink of schizophrenia and new ways of explaining the experience of racism.

Jimmy, a mixed-race French-Gabonese youth, has just been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Her friend Penda is going to visit her with her healing grandmother Mami Pirate. Before that, they met Lydia Duval, the psychiatrist responsible for the young man.

With the opening scene of The Demons, Seynabou Sonko immediately reveals the dialectic of this first novel, which explores plural identities, cultural assignments, and the art of escaping them.

Silences and displacements

What science calls schizophrenia, Seynabou Sonko calls “double consciousness.” Like his narrator, this 29-year-old writer was born in France to Senegalese parents. He grew up in a “silent” family where few stories were told, especially not about immigration. However, he feels that a piece is missing from the harmony of his environment. The way he sees himself does not correspond to the image that the outside world sends back to him: “I don’t think I’m black in the morning… I’ve always felt at the center of my world.”

Instead of experiencing this incongruity and the silence that surrounds it, he decides to invest it through the character of Penda. Addicted to skateboarding, cashier at the supermarket, smoking cannabis when the going gets tough, Penda grew up squatting with her sister and grandmother before remarrying, initiating Gabon’s animist rituals and virtues. iboga. Consumed in small doses, this stimulant and hallucinogenic herb can cure addictions.

Meet your worst enemy

In order to get Jimmy out of the hospital, where he was stunned by a cocktail of caustic drugs, Penda will have to act on the initiative of Mami Pirate, which begins with a mission: go pick the iboga that he planted in the forest of Fontainebleau. To accomplish this task, Penda must confront her best enemy, the demons, a kind of invisible entity that gives the novel its title:

“The closest thing to demons in photography is the negative. It’s something you feel, but it’s hard to put into words or make it real. Or it could be your own inner voice, its unconscious. But above all, I wanted the reader to be able to project what through that figure wanted. Therefore, even if I draw in Muslim culture, I do not give a very specific definition of it. And its invisibility allows everyone to imagine something, to fill it like a blank page. , to make it visible to everyone.”

Conciliation of opposite parties

Penda demons are white. Every time it appears, it’s confusing for the young woman: “(…) I wondered if I, too, suffered from schizophrenia on the fringes? Indeed, if Jimmy and I had one symptom in common, it was forgetfulness. With him it was instantaneous, with me it was persistent. .When there was no one to remind me, I forgot I was black, I forgot I had a white demon, and forgetting to be black is like being too low-key. boxing,” cries a character in the novel. Torn between the culture of her ancestral country and her environment, Penda tries to reconcile the contradictions.

Victor Hugo said that “form is the bottom rising to the surface”. Seynabou Sonko got it, words from herbal medicine, Verlan, Lingala, ancient Greek, excerpts from surahs and rap lyrics on the same page and without inconsistency. As Shango’s younger sister Penda weaves her hair, the author, a musician named Nabu, weaves a language that separates and resonates, making the depth of the stories she carries alone heard.

Salome Kiner/aq

Seynabou Sonko, “Demons”, Editions Grasset.

do you like reading Subscribe to QWERTZ and receive this newsletter dedicated to book news produced by RTS Culture every Friday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *