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God's Bits of Wood (Heinemann African Writers Series) [Paperback]

Sembene Ousmane
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: £10.20 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

19 July 1995 Heinemann African Writers Series
In 1947 the workers on the Dakar-Niger Railway came out on strike. Throughout this novel, written from the workers' perspective, the community social tensions emerge, and increase as the strike lengthens. The author's other novels include "Xala" and "Black Docker".

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Heinemann; 1 edition (19 July 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0435909592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0435909598
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 13 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 353,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Sembene Ousmane, film director and writer, was born in Senegal and worked as a fisherman before attending l'Ecole de Ceramique at Marsassoum. He then worked as a plumber, a bricklayer and an apprentice mechanic in Dakar. After the war he became a docker and trade union leader in Marseilles, and out of this experience he wrote "Le Docker Noir" (1956). He had also published "Oh Pays, mon Beau Peuple" (1957), "L'Harmattan" (1964) and the collection of stories, "Voltaique" (1962), which was translated as "God's Bits of Wood "and appears in the African Writers Series (AWS). He has made several films including one of "Le Mandat" (translated as The Money Order with White Genesis AWS). His film of "Xala" met with a great success in the New York film festival.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is an absolutely exhilarating, heart-wrenching exploration of the people and events surrounding the '50s national railway strike of the 'Smoke of the Savanna' in colonial French west Africa. All the people come to life before you and the book transports the reader to the middle of the compounds, railway yards, riots and women's marches of the one year act of resistance. Paving the way to the successful nationalist movement for independence the strike momentum lives here as the stand-off between hunger and affronted colonial pride. Testing traditional family structures and the integrity of individuals this has real villains and heroes. A true epic novel with the detail to move tears. So, 'What washes the water clean?' ..............(now that would be telling!)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story 28 July 2013
By John
This book should be used in Schools here to help the children who descended from Africans of all backgrounds to learn more about the way of life and culture and traditions of Africa before the influence of foreign values and colonialism. The Usurper and Other Stories, A grain of Wheat, Disciples of Fortune, No Longer at Ease, are some of the other African titles I enjoyed.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  30 reviews
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of African Literature by the Father of African Film 10 Nov 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Sembene Ousmane's third novel, God's Bits of Wood, was originally written and published in French as Les Bouts de bois de Dieu. The novel is set in pre-independence Senegal and follows the struggles of the African trainworkers in three cities as they go on strike against their French employers in an effort for equal benefits and compensation. The chapters of the book shift between the cities of Bamako, Thies, and Dakar and track the actions and growth of the men and women whose lives are transformed by the strike. Rather than number the chapters, Ousmane has labeled them by the city in which they take place, and the character who is the focal point of that chapter.
As the strike progresses, the French management decides to "starve out" the striking workers by cutting off local access to water and applying pressure on local merchants to prevent those shop owners from selling food on credit to the striking families. The men who once acted as providers for their family, now rely on their wives to scrape together enough food in order to feed the families. The new, more obvious reliance on women as providers begins to embolden the women. Since the women now suffer along with their striking husbands, the wives soon see themselves as active strikers as well.
The strategy of the French managers, or toubabs as the African workers call them, of using lack of food and water to pressure the strikers back to work, instead crystallizes for workers and their families the gross inequities that exist between them and their French employers. The growing hardships faced by the families only strengthens their resolve, especially that of the women. In fact, some of the husbands that consider faltering are forced into resoluteness by their wives. It is the women, not the men, who defend themselves with violence and clash with the armed French forces.
The women instinctively realize that women who are able to stand up to white men carrying guns are also able to assert themselves in their homes and villages, and make themselves a part of the decision making processes in their communities. The strike begins the awakening process, enabling the women to see themselves as active participants in their own lives and persons of influence in their society.
This book is wonderful yet sadly under-appreciated. Ousmane's handling of issues such as the politics of language, indigenous resistence, the cultural costs of forced industrialization, and the changing role of women really has the power to change the way people think. And yet, maybe the book's reach and resonance are the reasons that God's Bits of Wood is not widely read and taught in schools.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "God's Bits Of Wood" a Transcendent Novel of Excellence 14 April 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
In Sembene Ousmane's "God's Bits Of Wood" there is a detectable apect of human rights that surpasses all distinction. He points out the dilemmas of a neo-colonial state without giving them the weight of the novel. This novel utilizes this historical event to show humans at their best. The book shows the power of humankind to become humane without compromise. He displays well his ideas on race, gender, and human rights but by the end of the book we are led to an even more enlightening state of thinking and existing, which is to live without hate, even those who hate you, "[...] you must not let hatred enter your heart" (191). This is truly a great message to give while expressing such a triumphant story and event.
The novel also seems to contain a little intertextuality with the poetry of Muyaka (a 19th century poet who composed orally in his native tongue of Kiswahili and never saw the effects of colonialism). This relationship is most notable after reading his famous poem "Seeing Is Believing" (Ua La Manga)
-I've seen a hyena and a goat keeping good company.
-Also a hen and a hawk bringing up their chicks together
-And a blind person showing peopl the way;
-This was not told to me, I obvserved it with my own eyes.
I see the relationship throughout this poem but specifically with the third line, since one of the leaders of "Gods Bits Of Wood" is a blind woman named Maimouna, "All of the women seemed to want to walk behind Maimouna [...]" (201).
Ousmane also confronts the question of African Literature, and whether it can exist any mediums other than indigenous African languages. Throughout the book, which was originally, written in French, Ousmane will say such and such said in French when the novel clearly is already in French, "and then, holding out his hand to the two whit men, he added in French, 'Good morning, gentlemen" (125). By doing this throughout the novel Ousmane implies that the original is truly not in French but only exists that way (and in its English form) to cater to us, almost in an act of charity. The lines from one of the main characters embody this greatly, "That is all I had to say, and I have said it in French so that he would understnad me, although I think this meeting should have been conducted in Oulof, since that is our language" (177). He has written his novel in French for the same reason that Bakayoko speaks in it, because unlike Bakayoko,(and Ousmane) the French despite being surrounded by Oulof never picked it up.
All in all Ousmane accomplishes creating literature that is worthy of the world reading it. Like so much of African Literature it is masterful, new and refreshing, but sad because it is not enjoyed as widely as it should be.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic, tense description of a struggle for recognition 5 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
A book of protest, made all the more relevant by the fact that it concerns workers from a universal vocation - the railworkers' industry. Epic in scope, yet founded in community values and beliefs, Ousmane articulates the protest brilliantly. What is also special is his portrayal of women as a force for change - especially considering the chauvinistic politics of Africa today.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One more to read in your lifetime 27 Jun 2006
By W. Wellesley - Published on Amazon.com
Shortly after WW2 the black rail workers on the Niger-Dakar line went on strike for six months. At the time, it was the longest labor strike in world history. This book is based on the events that surrounded the strike. It tells how community adapts as hunger and thirst set in. There are almost 45 characters in the book in three different settings, so the chapters become more like a set of short stories that are interconnected by the overall plot and a handful of selected characters. It is obvious soon into the story that the heroes are the women. They are the ones that continue to care for their families throughout the six months while the men wait idly for successful negotiations between the union and the company.

Ousmane makes it clear that the main conflict is not between races or the colonizer and the colonized, but it's a class issue that is complicated by these other matters. The strikers receive support from laborers in France, and they want to work for the railroad (which is French-owned), but for a dignified wage. The author acknowledges that the "machine" changed the way of life in West Africa, with the oldest characters being the only ones who can remember (vaguely) what it was like without the train to transport and distribute staples throughout the region.

This, I think, has become one of my favorites. I recommend it to anyone who appreciates a good book.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not really that long ago.... 20 May 2000
By Melvin Strange - Published on Amazon.com
"God's Bits of Wood", which turns out to be what the women of this seiged west african community call their newborn children, is a vivid and well written novel detailing a strike of african railroad workers around 1947. The French controlled the entire western part of Africa at this point and had established a stronghold of French Colonialism based out of Dakar on the west coast of Africa. The problem getting supplies and such to their more eastern regions. The west african railroad was built to allow them to do this. Workers were virtually enslaved natives. This novel concentrates on the entire sequence of events surrounding the workers revolt particularly emphasizing the role of the women in the upkeep of the workers families during this time.
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