“Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks” by Boubacar Boris Diop [Why This Book Should Win]

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by Jennifer Croft, who is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow and holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.


Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 53%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 8%

Doomi Golo is a mesmerizing and unique novel made up of letters-in-notebooks from the delightful and profoundly astute Nguirane Faye, addressed to his vanished grandson Badou, who is in exile somewhere. Ranging from chronicles of daily life in the fictional Niarela neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal to entertaining fables, from deeply unsettling parables to tales of love and quests, Doomi Golo is both exquisitely distinct from anything I’ve ever read and perfectly relatable at once. Take this account of Senegal’s fictional dictator:

President Daour Diagne was hard at work pushing our country to the very edge of the precipice. His persistence and single-mindedness in this can only be described as diabolical. I consider it my duty to talk about the dark clouds I see gathering above our heads, and it’s out of deep concern for you that I want to tell you about my fear of impending disaster.

I sometimes have the impression President Daour Diagne secretly hates us. Does he think it’s our fault that he is old and nearly impotent, despite all his efforts to convince us of the opposite?

This is the first novel ever written in Wolof, rewritten in French by the author to reach a broader audience. Vera Wülfing-Leckie’s pitch-perfect translation is of the French text, though she consulted El Hadji Moustapha Diop and the author in producing the English version. With touching repeated refrains like “Shame on the nation that doesn’t listen to its little girls” (a similar statement is made of nations that ignore their poets) and thought-provoking scenes and observations (“How often in the course of your lifetime do you see your own face in the mirror, Nguirane? Probably not very often, just like the rest of us. No human being, unless he is somehow deranged, will stand in front of a mirror for hours on end, looking at himself. It is in the nature of our reflection to be fleeting.”), the novel toggles beautifully between tones and characters and makes for a fantastic and unforgettable reading experience that also addresses the act of writing itself, here in describing the protagonist’s religious inspiration, Mbaye Lô:

Malice and meanness were completely foreign to that man who managed to live in abject poverty without ever losing his dignity. As a child, I used to watch him with fascination as he was tracing symbols for hours on end. His body remained perfectly still while the quill at the end of his right hand performed its unhurried dance. Sometimes he would look up, and his eyes, lost in the distance, suddenly shone with a peculiar glow. It was as though he could hear the echo of his own silences coming back to him from another universe. I never went to the school of the Toubabs and I owe my love of the written world entirely to Mbaye Lô. The same applies to my genuine faith in God and my conviction that without the make-believe of signs and symbols, there would be no truth on this earth, neither good nor bad.

Doomi Golo is easily one of the strongest candidates for this year’s Best Translated Book Award and has my very highest recommendation to everyone.

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