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The African diaspora is a common theme of native writers whose works have been translated. Kossi Efoui is a Togolese political exile living and writing in France. His novel, “The Shadow of Things to Come”, traces the physical and emotional displacement of an African boy in a ficticious African country from the Time of Annexation to the post-Liberation period when conscripts are sent on ill-fated Frontier Challenge to rout the lethal animistic forest people. The “shadow” is the darkness faced by many countries in turmoil. Populations disappear for ethnic, religious, political, or inexplicable reasons. The boy’s father is “temporarily removed” from him at the age of five and taken to the camp called The Plantation from which most never return. There is no explanation for the displacement. There is fatalism, irony and class criticism throughout the novel. The boy surmises while touring The Plantation memorial during the post-Liberation period that his father was taken because The Plantation needed a saxophonist for its band.

Unlike some African literature with a theme of displacement, survival, integration and disintegration, this is a diaspora “in place”. The boy’s identity is emigrating within him. His sense of “self” is formulated, reconditioned and dissolved. He rejects the privileged status afforded a relative of those displaced, by the post-Liberation State. A conflict in the book is between identity through remembrance and preservation by destruction of the entire source code. Where is the balance between never forgetting and having an identity subsumed by hatred and guilt. Is there morality and message in martyrdom? What does it say about personal identity?

“And saying that, I’m thinking, says the speaker, of those men I was taught to venerate as instructors of humanity and who have only one thing in common– that quality of confidence required to let yourself be killed. Socrates? A man who let himself be killed. Gandhi? A man who let himself be killed. And what are we to say of the fascination of the Golgotha myth? What are we to say of the effectiveness of Christian propaganda, fashion out of a figure of a man who in actual fact performed no other miracle on earth than to let himself be killed?

You will let yourself be killed– this is the single instruction that raises you above all morality, all power, all commandments, all domination and, in the face of which no god can do anything but keep his mouth shut.”

This boy’s path is not one of steps, but one of leaps. At times the novel seems to be the same. You follow the journey but you may be as lost as the victims. This may be the point.

One curious element of the book is a passage in which the boy picks up a book to avoid continuing an unpleasant conversation. The title of the book is asterisked and at the bottom of the page is a plug for the author’s play of the same name. Why an editor did not remove this is unclear, but perhaps it too is a shadow of things to come. Will authors (or their publishers) with wide distribution get paid by advertisers for product promotion within their books. This subliminally happens in other mediums. Maybe it is happening in mass market publications. It is a business with thin margins and would be a revenue source for those who self-publish.

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