I read Miano’s Dark Heart of the Night during the recent Women’s World Cup of Literature. I didn’t like it much to be honest, and decided not to review it. But Women in Translation Month has changed my mind. My fellow WWCOL judge put it through to the quarter finals and there may be a wider audience for this cruel tale of man’s inhumanity to man … African to African. Despite the obvious nod to Conrad’s classic in the title of the – in the author’s opinion – mis-translated English translation, the theme is not post-colonial cruelty.
In a very direct way, Miano challenges African culture. The novel is set in a fictitious African village, enabling her to reach outside her native Cameroon. Her main character returns to the village, having been educated in France, an outsider now looking in, all critical facilities intact. A catalyst for change maybe? No chance, Village customs and values are solid, held rigidly in place mainly by the women folk even though they themselves are miserable. The existence of the village is threatened by revolutionaries in need of new “recruits” and when they descend on the village – in the words of Part One’s epigraph, If the sun is carnivorous, dusk is homicidal.
I might add graphically and sickeningly homicidal.
I have no wish to revisit those events which in my view turned the rest of the novel to ashes. But it was a brave move on the author’s part to critique her own continent so unflinchingly. Why? I’m not going to answer that. The author already has. In that article, which also demonstrates the forthright and plain-speaking style of the novel, she also explains why she thinks the title is mistranslated, and why she demanded that the University of Nebraska withdraw the foreword in their edition of her novel!
That might explain why the novel in English is very hard to find. I read a pdf version sent by the publisher. An e-book which I can safely say has not suffered the fate of other e-books I have read. Instantly forgotten. This one not. Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.