La Grève des Bàttu, The Beggars' Strike, is a brief novel written by the Senegalese born Aminata Sow Fall about political power in the capital city of Dakar. Originally published in French in 1979, this political fable was translated into English by Dorothy S. Blair.

The novel deals with social issues such as polygamy, education, religiousity, bureaucracy, and vagrancy. Understanding how all of these factors play out requires an understanding of what it means to be Muslim in West Africa. That is to say, being at home in a culture in multiple simultaneous transitions.

A culture which traditionally supports a man's ability to choose multiple wives while diminishing a woman's ability to voice her own opinions. A culture in which an upper class household may contain an illiterate mother who steadfastly ensures the thorough education of her children. A culture in which holy men known as marabouts, dispense advice to those seeking divine aid in exchange for charitable contributions—either to themselves or those in more dire need. A culture in which the vestiges of a world superpower have imposed a sense of order and formality far removed from the way in which individuals carry on with their day-to-day business. A culture in which a sizeable number of the population is injured or infirm to the point that being otherwise unable to support themselves, they have no recourse but to take to begging in the streets. 

In the space of 99 pages, Fall manages to skillfully weave together multiple points of view and major to minor conflicts, all centering around the personal and political ambitions of Mour Ndiaye, Minister of Public Health and Hygiene. Mour Ndiaye, a former vagrant himself, is tasked with asking the civil servants who work under him to remove all the beggars from the streets for the sake of tourism. The beggars are forcibly repressed and decide to go on strike. The entire story is rich with irony as Mour Ndiaye's worldview crumbles in conflict.  The resulting action is amusing, though those lacking familiarity with West African culture are likely to be more confused than amused.  

Being a translation of a work written in an adopted language, this book presents a field ripe for linguistic analysis. The translator, Blair, retained some of the original French distinctive to African culture as well as some words in Wolof, the primary vernacular language in Senegal. Thankfully, the edition I read (published by Longman African Classics in 1991) does contain a glossary at the beginning but no in-text notes.

One word I learned was boubou, which is another word for muumuu. Then there is talibé, which is a marabout's errand boy. Also, the word corniche.

This is a good book to read if you at all interested in post-colonial concerns or just want something different for your reading fare.

In 1980, Aminata Sow Falls was recognized by the ADELF, the Association of French Language Writers, and received the Grand prix littéraire d'Afrique noire. She was the first woman from her country to receive this prize.

ISBN 0-582-00243-5

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