As The Crow Flies By Véronique Tadjo
A brainwavez.org Literary Review

South Africa By: Anne Taylor on 26 July 2010
Category: Books > Reviews
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As The Crow Flies is a short novel that explores the individual loves of nameless characters living in urban landscapes and other unidentified locations who are unconnected to each other, yet linked through the themes of love or suffering in a world in which love finds it hard to thrive.

As The Crow Flies By Veronique TadjoAs The Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo was originally written in French and translated by Kenyan writer Wagui wa Goro in 2001. Now part of the Penguin African Writer Series, this novel contains elements of traditional folklore, myth, and allegory, but is combined with the details of daily living to reflect the randomness of modern living.

A direct address to the reader in the preface describes Tadjo's intention to give the novel a non-linear structure: "Indeed, I too would have loved to write one of those serene stories with a beginning and an end. But as you know only too well, it is never like that..." She writes that "lives mingle, people tame one another and part", which is an experience with which many readers could identify. The reader is unable to locate the characters or connect them; the nameless protagonists live in unidentified, sterile environments. As they have no identity and are pared down to just their bare existence, they are intended to reflect aspects of ourselves. As to just what that is, Tadjo allows her readers to make their own interpretation. Her blend of oral tradition and poetical descriptions leaves this novel open for interpretation.

Tadjo provides the reader with a panoramic view of various unknown landscapes and then, like a bird, swoops in as she focuses on a more detailed aspect of a character's existence. She describes her novel as a "necklace. Each story is a bead. It requires a second reading, a thread that goes through all the stories – I think this thread is love". The reader is provided with a clue to the author's intended theme at the beginning of the novel with a poem: "If you want to love / Do so / To the ends of the earth / With no Shortcuts / Do so / As the crow flies." However, if every story is a bead, they are not strung together, but scattered throughout the novel, each one serving as an individual clue for interpretation. Although I have found the experience of interpreting this novel a pleasurable, rewarding one, I have to question if a short novel should require a second reading simply to locate the theme (which Tadjo thinks is love) and whether readers will want to make this effort. Personally, I had to read this novel a second time, sometimes reading a single paragraph two or three times, in order to absorb its full meaning. It's also not always possible to detect the theme of love in every story. It seems to me that if the stories are not connected by the theme of love, intimacy or desire, they are linked through the lack of love as well as suffering, poverty, or simply the hope for a better existence. There is even a hint of politics when the narrator picks up a newspaper with an article on the South African apartheid era, which tells of "riots and funerals".

It is possible to detect an oblique plot interspersed between the various tales of the faceless characters. It is the narrative of a single woman who has had an affair with a married man in Abidjan and has either left him or been abandoned by him. "He was a magnificent man," she tells us. She recalls the morning she handed him a note with the words: "I'm desperately in love with you". Their romantic affair comes crashing to an end when his wife catches them. She longs for his return when she is back in the "city of stone" and tells of how their love is slipping away. "Life is a trap," she professes, "I am going crazy in this city that revolves around [him], where my life has taken on the allure of a promise. I am suffocating." Her past memories and present feelings blur as she tries to "erase her memories" and makes her journey towards self understanding. She apologises to us for "mislaying dreams of rare pearls and fetish gold". Her story is intertwined with other characters' stories whose tales reflect aspects of her own suffering, including another adulterous affair.

One aspect of the novel that is very disorientating for the reader (especially considering that the characters are not fully developed) is that Tadjo frequently shifts from first to second and then to third person. It seems that the single woman speaks to us in the first and second person, and the third person is used when we are addressed by the omniscient narrator, or perhaps a second person altogether, or even the single woman's inner voice. The author's aim is not to create a plot-driven text but a fluid one. Another disorientating technique she uses is to leave chronology deliberately vague. Tadjo's intention to create an open-ended novel is highlighted in a part of the first chapter, which contains only one line: "There are no frontiers". While Tadjo's style can be quite liberating, I think many readers will not be able to quash their desire for a more structured plot or more developed characters. However, if readers are prepared to do so (and this novel is short enough to be read easily in one afternoon, as one chapter only takes a couple of minutes), they will find this novel a sublime, poetical experience. It is beautifully written and one cannot help but find oneself lingering on Tadjo's exquisite descriptions.

The review copy of As The Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo was provided by Penguin Books (South Africa). It is available from leading book stores and online retailers, including Kalahari.net, loot.co.za, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.


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Rating: 8/10



Key Facts (Review Copy)
Title: As The Crow Flies
Author: Véronique Tadjo
Translator: Wangal wa Goro
ISBN/EAN: 9780143026228
Publisher: The Penguin Group (SA) (first published by Heinemann Education Publishers in 2001)
Edition: First
Year: 2009 (1 August 2009); first published 2001
Format: Paperback
Pages: 112
Dimensions: 128x197x10mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: Africa, drama, fiction, identity, love



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