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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

In the United States of Africa

Abdourahman A. Waberi

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To purchase In the United States of Africa

Title: In the United States of Africa
Author: Abdourahman A. Waberi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 123 pages
Original in: French
Availability: In the United States of Africa - US
In the United States of Africa - UK
In the United States of Africa - Canada
Aux États-Unis d'Afrique - Canada
In the United States of Africa - India
Aux États-Unis d'Afrique - France
In den Vereinigten Staaten von Afrika - Deutschland
Gli Stati Uniti d'Africa - Italia
  • French title: Aux États-Unis d'Afrique
  • Translated by David and Nicole Ball
  • Foreword by Percival Everett

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Our Assessment:

B : wonderfully executed premise, a bit thin on the story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2009 Matthew Ladd
FAZ . 15/8/2008 Sabine Berking
The National . 11/6/2009 Laila Lalami
NZZ . 10/7/2008 Heinz Hug
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2009 James Crossley
World Lit. Today . 3-4/2007 Adele King

  From the Reviews:
  • "Waberi does not require of his readers a sustained interest in global economics or geopolitical paradigm shifts, but rather a simple attention to the minutiae of human gesture. (...) This choice of perspective gradually creates problems for the story’s credibility. One is tempted to blame the translators, as David and Nicole Ball’s rendering occasionally slips embarrassingly (.....) But the author can also be called to account" - Matthew Ladd, Bookforum

  • "So eingängig die karnevaleske Weltsicht ist, die Nord und Süd den Spiegel vorhält, so wenig kann die Handlung überzeugen, allen voran die Findungsgeschichte der Heldin, ihre Liebesbeziehung zu einem Modefotografen oder ihre Familiensaga. Das liegt formal an der zuweilen anstrengenden Polyphonie der Stimmen, die zwischen direkter Zwiesprache des Erzählers mit der Heldin in der zweiten Person Singular und einer eher traditionellen Erzählweise changiert. Darüber hinaus trifft dieser in die Satire eingebettete, metaphernüberquellende Künstler- und Bildungsroman zwischen derbem Karnevalspektakel und leisem Weltschmerz einfach nicht den richtigen Ton." - Sabine Berking, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The effect is wonderfully satirical, especially because this alternate reality is rendered in the same dispassionate, commanding tone one is accustomed to getting in real life from so-called experts on Africa and the solutions to its woes. (...) The world Waberi creates in his new novel may be entirely driven by the question of "what if", but it has the natural and wonderful effect of making the reader re-examine what is." - Laila Lalami, The National

  • "Waberi versteht seinen Roman als politische Fiktion. Er habe kein Interesse, die Verhältnisse direkt zu beschreiben -- die Umkehrung dagegen verschaffe ihm Distanz zu den heutigen Realitäten und zu den bisher praktizierten literarischen Formen, wie er 2006 in einem Interview ausführte. Mit dieser erzählerischen Strategie verfolge er das Ziel, Afrika und dem Rest der Welt zu zeigen, dass die Verhältnisse nicht von Natur aus so seien, dass ein vereinheitlichender Blick auf Afrika an den Realitäten vorbeiziele. In den Vereinigten Staaten von Afrika ermöglicht eine fundierte Auseinandersetzung mit brennenden Themen der heutigen Zeit, so etwa der Flüchtlingsproblematik, Wohltätigkeit, der kolonialen Vergangenheit, der Wahrnehmung des Fremden oder der Globalisierung." - Heinz Hug, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "It’s the offhanded way Waberi goes about his satire that makes his critique as devastating as it is; he doesn’t belabor the scenario, he casually inverts cultural references (...) and twists the thoughtless rhetoric that’s been used so often to flatten and homogenize Africa in literature. There’s self-criticism on offer, too." - James Crossley, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The novel resembles an eighteenth-century philosophical tale, with its epigraphs introducing each chapter, its emphasis on themes and settings rather than plot and character, its satiric narrative voice. (...) The novel ends with the hope that through art, literature, and love, the divisiveness of humankind can be reduced, a goal to which Aux États-Unis d'Afrique, through its clever satiric treatment of ethnic stereotypes, contributes." - Adele King, World Literature Today

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:

       In the United States of Africa posits an alternate reality, in which Africa is the most advanced continent on earth and its countries the leading economic and cultural powers. Meanwhile, the countries currently considered among the most advanced, in Europe and America, are squalid, backward, failed states.
       The story that runs through the novel is of Malaïka, known as Maya, a white girl born in France but adopted by an African. With her birth-mother dying in France, Maya retraces her roots and considers her otherness. Along the way, Waberi is able to point out both African (and foreign) conditions and differences.
       Many of Waberi's short chapters are written in the second person, addressed to Maya, making for an unusual but not entirely successful immediacy. More convincing are the more casual observations of this alternate world, presented very simply and matter-of-factly, so that while the details are still jarring they come across as a convincing possible world.
       This approach works best in pointing out what's most absurd, as for example in describing how:

     African man felt sure of himself very early on. He saw himself as a superior being on this earth, without equal, since he was separated from other people and races by an infinitely vast space. He elaborated a system of values in which his throne is at the top. The others -- natives, barbarians, primitives, pagans (almost always white) -- are reduced to the rank of pariahs. The universe seems to have been created only to raise him up, to celebrate him.
       Waberi's 'United States of Africa' makes for a marvelous and highly entertaining -- and thought-provoking -- backdrop, but the narrative itself is less sure-footed. Maya's odyssey isn't allowed to unfold as simply as it should, and it can not quite bear the burden of all Waberi loads on it.
       If not an entirely successful work of fiction, the short In the United States of Africa is nevertheless well worth reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 July 2009

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In the United States of Africa: 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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