The distinctly dog-eared picture that accompanies this review tells its own story.
I’ve re-read God’s Bits of Wood, by Sengalese writer Sembene Ousemane, so many times in the last quarter century that my copy of the book is falling apart.
It is a riveting read, although the large cast of characters (around three dozen-or-so), their unfamiliar West African names and the equally unfamiliar colonial French West African setting mean it is not an easy one.
Well worth the effort though.
Published in 1960, the year Senegal gained independence, the novel follows the lives of the people caught up in the 1947-48 Dakar-to-Niger railway strike.
They’re a disparate group.
Ousemane journeys the length of the train line telling the stories of the strikers, their colonial masters and the other workers whose livelihoods depend on the railway, as well as those of the wives and ‘concubines’ and other women whose lives are changed forever by the strike.
And, while God Bits of Wood is ostensibly about the struggle of the black railway workers to be treated fairly, it also addresses issues of class and gender prejudice.
For though the male strikers want equality for themselves, they fail to see that, in segregating women to a subservient domestic role, they are equally guilty of oppression.
Ultimately, of course, while the men sit around arguing about how the strike might be won, it is the women, whose ingenuity and determination saves their families from starvation and death, that propel them to victory.
This is a beautifully written and carefully-crafted book.
Ousemane, a successful film-maker, has an eye for detail that enables the reader to ‘see’ the stories he paints in glorious Technicolor.
Review by Sue Featherstone
God’s Bits of Wood is available to buy on Amazon.